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OSHA Hazard Alert Related to Silica Exposure and Hydraulic Fracturing


June 24, 2012

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced Thursday a hazard alert protecting workers at hydraulic fracturing operations from silica exposure. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and OSHA have commented that workers who regularly breathe it are at greater risk of developing silicosis, a "lung disease where lung tissue around trapped silica particles reacts, causing inflammation and scarring and reducing the lungs' ability to take in oxygen." They say silica also is linked to lung cancer and tuberculosis. NIOSH's recent field studies show that workers may be exposed to dust with high levels of respirable crystalline silica (called "silica" in the Alert) during hydraulic fracturing.

This Hazard Alert discusses the health hazards associated with hydraulic fracturing and focuses on worker exposures to silica in the air. It covers the health effects of breathing silica, recommends ways to protect workers, and describes how OSHA and NIOSH can help.

Silicon dioxide (SiO2), typically referred to as silica, is the most abundant mineral in the earth. It exists in two forms, crystalline andamorphous, with crystalline silica (quartz, cristobalite and tridymite) being the more injurious to human health upon inhalation of respirable-size (< 10 microns in diameter) particles. Silica remains an ever-present potential hazard to workers in many industries (construction, mining, abrasives, tunneling, quarrying, cement and concrete, glass making, foundries and steel production, sandblasting, silica flour production, and pottery production).

Exponent's Silica Capabilities

Exponent’s staff includes scientists and engineers who focus their expertise on conditions associated with human exposure to particulate matter, including crystalline silica. Our experience with clients includes the design of worker protection and engineering control programs to mitigate the potential health hazards within the workplace and the surrounding community. From workplace job safety analysis and employee monitoring, silica program development and worker training to engineering controls like local exhaust ventilation, material substitution, operation enclosure and isolation, Exponent’s professionals are experienced and prepared to address potential risk issues. Our industrial hygienists, toxicologists, and epidemiologists provide the expertise to thoroughly investigate and assess the significance of human exposure and the magnitude of human health risks relative to human inhalation events involving crystalline silica-containing materials. Our scientists and engineers perform production simulation and dose reconstruction studies to determine particle generation characteristics and the likelihood for significant inhalation events relative to the historical use of individual products and specific job activities.

For more information on Exponent’s services related to hydraulic fracturing, click here.