Every day New York workers in all sort of jobs are exposed to silica dust. This dust is the byproduct of working with mortar, brick, concrete and stone. These tiny particles are less than 100th the size of a grain of sand. When workers grind, drill or otherwise crush these common building materials, these tiny particles are released and thereby inhaled by workers.

Over time, exposure to silica dust can be deadly. Silica dust exposure can lead to silicosis — a deadly respiratory disease — and to lung cancer. Both of these conditions are very serious and kill hundreds of workers each year.

Recently, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed new safety regulations regarding silica exposure. These regulations would reduce the amount of silica that workers could be exposed to on a daily basis. Depending on the industry, acceptable levels could be reduced by more than 80 percent. These new regulations would also require some businesses to screen employees for signs of silicosis every three years. According to OSHA, if these regulations are adopted, almost 700 workers could be saved each year.

These proposed regulations would affect around 534,000 businesses nationwide — mostly those in the construction field. The construction industry has opposed changes to the silica exposure regulations for years, citing cost concerns. According to industry officials, implementing these new proposals could cost $640 million.

While these proposed regulations could cost businesses some money, they can save New York workers’ lives. Workplace illnesses and workplace accidents can lead to debilitating effects for workers. Workers suffering from workplace illnesses, such as silicosis, may find some relief through workers’ compensation. Workers’ compensation may be available to cover lost wages and other costs associated with the workplace illness.

Source: The New York Times, “New Rules Would Cut Silica Dust Exposure,” Steven Greenhouse, Aug. 23, 2013