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New OSHA rules seek to protect construction workers from silica

Dust is a fact of life at construction sites in Minnesota, but breathable dust from crystalline silica presents a significant hazard to workers' health. New rules from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration place strong requirements upon employers to reduce exposure and educate workers about the dangers of breathing silica dust.

The permissible exposure limit for silica has been reduced by 80 percent from previous guidelines. To meet this standard, construction companies need to prepare written plans that address how their work practices and housekeeping approaches will reduce dust. Every employer must assign a competent person to develop and maintain safety guidelines concerning silica dust. Additionally, workers frequently exposed to silica need to have employer-paid medical monitoring that includes chest X-rays.

OSHA has also established an alternative approach that would exempt employers from some of these strict measures if they follow recommendations for work practices, respiratory use and engineering controls. For example, the agency published methods for reducing dust when using tools like saws and grinders. Under all circumstances, employers now have an obligation to train workers about the dangers of silica dust and appropriate techniques for preventing workers from breathing the dust.

When a person believes that something at work has caused sickness, workers' compensation insurance could pay for medical treatment. Because an employer or insurance company might not want to recognize a workplace illness, the person might want representation from an attorney familiar with workplace injuries. An attorney could help the person file the correct forms to report the problem. Connecting the person with an independent physician to obtain a medical evaluation might also be accomplished by an attorney. By gathering evidence and filing a lawsuit, an attorney might gain compensation for the person's medical expenses and lost pay.

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