Accounts of occupational respiratory illness associated with the inhalation of rock dust date from antiquity, and thus the condition known as silicosis is among the oldest known occupational illnesses. Respirable crystalline silica is, and has been, an enforcement priority for OSHA for several years. The current ACGIH TLV (the recommended exposure limit) is roughly one fourth of the OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit, and many regulators believe the current legal exposure limits do not offer adequate worker protection.

There are some technical challenges to monitoring worker exposure for respirable crystalline silica. These technical issues can lead to flawed exposure evaluation and risk assessment, and thus put employers at risk. Options will be presented to supplement traditional NIOSH and OSHA exposure monitoring methodology and exposure data analysis and provide common sense approaches to dust control that can reduce exposure.

There are several techniques that allow gathering more silica exposure data in less time and with less expense. These techniques can provide larger, more representative data sets at lower cost, and enhance employers’ abilities to assess and manage silica exposure at their sites.

The recent OSHA/NIOSH Hazard Alert on excessive silica exposure during oil and gas well stimulation using hydraulic fracturing has put employers on notice that they are responsible for managing this recognized workplace hazard. Employers who can produce records of proactive, robust exposure monitoring programs are rarely targeted for intensive regulatory field in-spections.

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