The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) established a standard for the permissible amount of dust that can be inhaled during certain types of work. The OSHA dust standard applies to all industries, including mining, manufacturing, transportation and agriculture.
According to the OSHA standard, dust exposure limits apply when employees are working with or around materials such as rocks, soil particles or other substances that contain quartz crystals. Quartz dust contains small amounts of quartz, which are considered hazardous because they can cause lung cancer if inhaled.
The OSHA standard establishes a maximum permissible exposure level (MEL) for dust that is based on the concentration of quartz found in the air at one location. For example, if there were 10 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m3) of quartz in the air at a particular place, then there would be a maximum allowable exposure limit (MAP).
For most workplaces, the MEL is set at 0.1 mg/m3. However, some workplaces have lower levels of exposure than others. Some examples include:
Industrial settings where quartz dust is used in the manufacture of products;
In agricultural settings where it may be used in the production of seeds or fruits; and,
At mines where quartz is mined and processed into glass or other forms of industrial use.
OSHA limits do not apply to all workers in a particular industry. For example, the standard does not apply to workplaces where there is less than a potential of one excess case of lung cancer per 100,000 workers during a working lifetime. However, some states may have stricter guidelines.
THE IMPORTANCE OF LABORATORY TESTS:
Laboratory tests are one measure of whether a known sources of respirable dust exist in the air. If quartz dust or other types of dust appear in the air at a concentration above the PEL, then additional protection measures must be taken.
Appropriate engineering controls should be used whenever possible to reduce or prevent exposure. For example, ventilation systems can be used to remove dust from the air. In addition, extra care should be taken to ensure that any protective clothing needed is worn properly while working with known dust hazards when engineering controls are not adequate by themselves.
The last line of defense is the use of respiratory protection. The type of respirator required is dependent upon the type and concentration of dust in the workplace air. In addition, medical examinations may be required before working with or around these materials to ensure that there are no undiagnosed health issues that would make a worker more susceptible to damage from dust exposure.
HOW CAN I TELL IF DUST IS A HAZARD IN MY WORK PLACE?
The best way to know if dust is a hazard in your place of work is to have regular laboratory tests done.
When getting these laboratory tests, the sample should be taken where workers are actually working or most likely to come in contact with dust containing quartz. For example, if you work with vibrating screens, it would probably be best to take a sample from that area.
If you work in a mine setting, then it would be best to take a sample from the mining equipment itself.
The next step is to have the sample tested for quartz content. While some labs may test the sample for free, others may charge a fee. Take your sample to a reputable lab or university. Some community colleges offer this service as well.
WHAT TO DO IF THERE IS A HEALTH HAZARD AT WORK?
If a health hazard is suspected, report it to your supervisor immediately. Keep a record of all samples taken and send them to a reputable testing lab.
Depending upon the results of the testing, you may need to file a formal complaint with OSHA if your employer fails to take action. State and local health departments may also be able to help.
WHAT IS OSHA AND HOW CAN IT HELP ME?
OSHA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Labor created by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. OSHA’s mission is to promote safe working standards and practices to prevent workplace injuries and deaths. The act mandates that employers provide a safe work environment for their employees including the proper use of protective equipment.
OSHA has jurisdiction over all workplaces in the United States with a few exceptions such as the federal government, railroads (covered by the Federal Railroad Administration) and airlines (covered by the Aviation Safety Whistleblower Program).
There are more than 2,000 OSHA inspectors who monitor some 7 million workplaces across the nation. However, it should be noted that OSHA does not have the authority to shut down a dangerous operation. Its jurisdiction is limited to informing workers of safety hazards and referring those hazards that pose immediate danger to the workers or could cause death or serious physical harm to the appropriate government agency for further action.
In addition, any attempt by an employer to retaliate against an employee for reporting a workplace hazard is illegal. The employer may not dismiss, demote, suspend, reduce pay or in any other way discriminate against the employee. The employee has the right to file a complaint with OSHA if this occurs.
OSHA typically informs the employer of the hazards, which must be brought to the employer’s attention so that they can correct the problem.
If an employer fails to comply with safety standards or takes too long to do so, such as when fixing equipment or machinery, then OSHA can close down the workplace until the employer fixes the hazard.
If an employer fails to correct the hazard within the specific time period, then OSHA will file a legal complaint with a federal agency such as the Department of Labor. If the employer continues to fail to comply, then legal proceedings may begin to close down the operation until all safety measures are in place.
OSHA’s permission is not required in order for an employee to file a lawsuit against an employer. However, if an employee wants to file a lawsuit under the Public Nuisance Law or the Occupational Disease law, he or she must first file an official complaint with OSHA. Filing the complaint will start the process of inspecting the workplace, and may lead to a citation and fine against the employer.
WHAT ABOUT MY HEALTH INSURANCE?
Most likely your health insurance policy has a specific exclusion stating that it does not provide coverage for work related diseases. In other words, if you develop a rare cancer due to your job (such as exposure to benzene), your health insurance company can deny payment for treatment and even drop you from their rolls entirely.
If you are concerned about this issue, find out what the specific exclusion is in your policy and consider buying an endorsement or riders that specifically address the situation.
WHAT ABOUT COMPENSATION FOR INJURIES?
This can be a very complex issue, so anyone who is concerned about this should seek legal advice immediately. However, here are some basic issues to consider:
You may not be eligible for Worker’s Compensation if your employer has not registered the business. In most states, all employers are legally required to register their business with the state and pay a yearly fee. If your company hasn’t done this or has neglected to pay the yearly fee, then you won’t be able to file a claim through Worker’s Compensation.
Even if the business is registered and up to date with its fees, you may not be covered if your injury was caused by a hazard that your employer knew about but failed to correct. For example, let’s say you are working as a roofer and you fall off a roof because the ladder was poorly maintained. In this case, you may not be covered under Worker’s Compensation because the company failed to correct a known hazard. However, if there was a sudden accident that no one could have anticipated (such as a co-worker slipping and falling off the roof), then you would be covered.
Even if you are covered under Worker’s Compensation, you may not receive as much payment as you would like. The goal of Worker’s Compensation is to provide a safe job environment and enough of a living to allow an employee to recover. It is not designed to make someone rich or compensate them for all their lost earning potential, pain and suffering, or other non-economic damages. If you have been hurt on the job and are concerned about Worker’s Compensation, it is recommended that you contact a lawyer.
The legal guide is intended to provide general information regarding the laws and legal system of the United States. Laws vary from state to state, and in some cases, federal law applies. If you have specific questions regarding your situation, please consult with an attorney.
This guide is not intended to, and should not be construed to, create any attorney-client relationship, nor is it an offer to provide legal services. The reader should not act, or fail to act, upon this information without consulting a qualified professional.
While every effort has been made to present current and accurate information, it may contain errors or omissions. Additionally, the format and layout of the guide may be different from the printed version.
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Sources & references used in this article:
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