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OSHA Issues Hazard Alert on Hydraulic Fracturing

7/23/2012 | Construction Blog

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in conjunction with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, has issued a hazard alert in order to encourage employers to protect workers from excessive silica exposure during hydraulic fracturing activities. The warning follows the completion of a joint study by OSHA and NIOSH on exposure to high levels of silica.

Hydraulic fracturing – or fracking as it is commonly called – is the process by which pressurized liquids are introduced into rock formations to crack them. This technique is used extensively in Pennsylvania and other states for the removal of gas and other natural resources from the ground. Silica, which is found in sand and other products used to perform fracking operations, gets into the air and is breathed in by workers.

The study found that workers who breath in silica every day at work were at a higher risk to develop a number of respiratory and other diseases. Among them are silicosis, a condition which develops when silica builds up in the lungs and causes scarring. The result is a decreased ability for the lungs to take in oxygen.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible to provide a safe and healthy working environment for their workers. The hazard alert encourages employers to address possible exposure to high levels of silica through a combination of engineering controls, effective work practices, protective equipment, and product substitution where feasible. This will, of course, require employers to monitor air when fracking operations are ongoing in order to properly assess what needs to be done.

With the issuance of this hazard alert comes a responsibility for employers to educate employees about this hazard if they might be exposed to it. OSHA standards require that employers prepare and implement a written hazard communication program, provide training and information on silica exposure in the workplace, and provide workers with access to Safety Data Sheets on silica and other hazardous materials they are exposed to during fracking operations. While the rules are seemingly targeted at companies in the oil and gas industry, they do not appear to be limited in any way. Accordingly, anyone using silica based products in their construction activities should be aware of this new development.