The Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor, or OSHA, has increased the penalties for construction contractors who fail to uphold safety standards for dealing with silica in Minnesota and across the country. In January, OSHA changed the fine structure that companies will deal with if they do not abide by the safety standards drafted in 2013 for handling crystalline silica.

Crystalline silica dust particles are brought into the environment when workers sand concrete walls, engage in fracking, saw bricks or cut into concrete. In the five years between 2013 and 2018, there have been major changes in how this dust is handled. Around 2.3 million people throughout the United States are exposed to silica dust, according to OSHA. This exposure can lead to occupational disease and a series of severe consequences, including lung cancer, silicosis, kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. Long-term exposure to silica dust can lead to clogged lung nodules and a worsening inability to breathe freely.

The safety standards require concrete to be kept wet in order to prevent silica dust from entering workers’ lungs. In the cases where wet concrete cannot be used, workers must be fitted with firmly sealed respiratory masks. If these standards are being violated, under the new system, contractors will pay $12,934 for each violation and $12,934 for every day the company fails to remedy the violation. Ongoing and repeated violations could bring fines of up to $129,336.

Silica exposure in the workplace is just one of many occupational hazards faced by workers on the job. Whether a worker is dealing with the effects of toxic exposure or a simple workplace injury, a workers compensation attorney may help protect an employee’s rights to compensation. A lawyer might also help workers dealing with the consequences of safety violations on the job.