Work on ships can involve exposure to a wide variety of hazards. While some hazardous materials can cause immediate harm upon exposure, others only cause injury or illness over time. One workplace illness that longshoremen and other maritime workers have contracted from their work is silicosis. This disease of the lung occurs when small particles of silica are inhaled. Over time, silica dust can collect in the lung and cause damage. Silicosis is irreversible and sometimes fatal. Other conditions associated with overexposure to silica dust include COPD and kidney disease.
Silica is a mineral found in stone and sand. When workers cut, grind, or drill materials containing crystalline silica, or use industrial sand, they can be exposed to silica dust. The most common job in the maritime industry where silica exposure occurs is in using sand for abrasive blasting.
One problem with being exposed to silica is that there is no pain, odor, or serious discomfort that can serve as a warning sign that silica exposure is happening. Illness from working with silica will usually not manifest until years after exposure. There is a risk of workers being exposed to silica without realizing there is a problem. Maritime employers have an obligation to inform their employees of recognized workplace hazards and take measures to protect their workers from work-related illnesses and injuries.
OSHA’s Silica Standard for the Maritime Industry
In 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) updated its workplace standard for exposure to small airborne crystalline silica particles (respirable) for general and maritime workers. 29 CFR 1910.1053. The standard set a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 micrograms per cubic meter per day that cannot be exceeded. It also requires employers to:
- measure the amount of exposure workers experience;
- limit access to areas where silica is used;
- control dust using wet methods and/or ventilation;
- provide respirators;
- train workers on health effects and how to avoid overexposure; and
- offer periodic medical exams.
OSHA has a different standard for the construction industry. It included a table of specific control methods to use for various tasks that have proven useful at reducing exposure. The construction industry standard allows employers to avoid having to monitor employee exposure to silica if they use the methods listed in Table 1. 29 CFR 1926.1153. This is not permissible under the maritime standard.
OSHA Seeks to Publish a Request for Information (RFI)
Setting standards is a process. It is not possible to know whether a standard, if met, would successfully mitigate injury or illness. Over time, as data is collected, standards can be examined and, if necessary, improved.
Recently, OSHA submitted a draft RFI to the Office of Management and Budget requesting permission to publish it in the Federal Register. The purpose of the RFI will be to gather information on the success of the methods listed in the table. It will use this information to determine if revisions to Table 1 may be appropriate. OSHA will also seek information on additional tasks involving other uses of silica not included in the table.
Cape May Maritime Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Advocate for Maritime Workers’ Safety
Exposure to silica can be devastating over time. If you are a maritime worker who has worked with silica and have symptoms of exposure, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact an experienced Cape May maritime lawyer at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. by calling 888-999-1962 or submit an online contact form to schedule a free consultation. Our offices in Philadelphia and Cherry Hill, New Jersey serve clients throughout South Jersey, including the areas of Cape May, Gloucester, and Wildwood.