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Updated silica regulation could improve workplace safety


Updated silica regulation could improve workplace safety

Some granular absorbents used in South Carolina workplaces may jeopardize employee health. To improve worker safety, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has announced a final rule concerning respirable crystalline silica. According to OSHA, the use of safer, more natural alternative materials could mitigate the danger posed by absorbents that contain silica. Such materials could also reduce or potentially eliminate damage to the physical environs that is sometimes caused by more abrasive components.

Safe, effective working conditions include clean, dry floors. Drips, spills and leaks may occur at any time, so a comprehensive spill control response plan is an essential element in workplace safety programs. Beyond cost-effectiveness, companies should consider a number of factors when choosing the products for their plans. Although perceived to be low-cost, clay-based granular absorbents may be messy and abrasive, and they may not truly absorb liquids. In addition, the composition of this type of granular is commonly between 80 percent and 90 percent silica-based.

Through the common use of such clay or diatomaceous earth compositions, approximately 2.3 million workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica each year. Exposure to these high levels of silica correlates with serious health issues, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, kidney disease and silicosis. Absorbent materials such as coconut, corn cob and cellulose may provide a healthier alternative to the use of silica-based granular as could a variety of meltblown polypropylene-based products such as mats, rolls and pads.

The OSHA final rule could prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis annually and save an estimated 600 lives each year. South Carolina workers whose health issues may have been caused by exposure to respirable crystalline silica in the workplace may want to seek advice from an attorney who is experienced in workers’ compensation cases that involve an occupational disease.