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Silica reduction still a struggle for some employers

In September 2017, federal safety inspectors began enforcing a new rule that limits the amount of silica dust construction to which workers in North Carolina and across the U.S. can be exposed. However, many construction companies are still not fully compliant with the regulations, according to media reports.

Silica, which is a fine dust, is present on many construction job sites. When inhaled, it can cause a number of serious health conditions, including lung scarring, silicosis and even death. To reduce worker illnesses, the new rule cuts the silica dust exposure limit by 80 percent and requires employers to measure silica levels on worksites. If silica levels exceed the permissible amount, employers must take action to lower it. These actions could include vacuuming up excessive dust or spraying water to keep it from becoming airborne.

However, some contractors aren’t yet aware of the new rule or don’t understand it. For example, one common misconception is that respirators are an acceptable first option to protect workers. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the first responsibility of employers is to lower the overall amount of silica on worksites, which would reduce the need for respirators. As of April 17, 2018, OSHA had issued 116 citations for alleged silica violations. Experts believe the number of citations is likely to rise over the next few months.

Construction workers who are exposed to silica could experience long-term health problems. As a result, they may be eligible to apply for workers’ compensation benefits. If approved, this compensation will pay a worker’s medical expenses and provide wage replacement payments. Many people find it helpful to seek the advice of an attorney before filing their claim. A lawyer could ensure the claim is properly documented and help someone receive all the benefits to which he or she is entitled.

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