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    Petroleum groups criticize proposed OSHA regulations on silica exposure for fracking workers

    Two industry groups have criticized a proposed federal regulation to limit silica exposure among oil and natural gas workers, saying that the proposed limits would harm the fracking industry. The American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) issued a joint statement about the proposed safety rules in preparation for a hearing with about 80 organizations and industry groups that will take place in Washington, D.C. through April 4.

    In a joint statement about the new silica regulations proposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the API and IPAA said that they believe that the new rules would have a harmful effect on fracking companies:

    The organizations assert that in a “rushed analysis” of the industry, OSHA underestimated the costs the rule would have for the fracking industry to comply. The costs of following the rule would “create profound detrimental economic consequences as companies — large and small — struggle to implement control technologies that are not commercially available, not effective, cannot be used in conjunction and, in some cases, do not exist,” the organizations wrote.

    OSHA has proposed new rules that would limit the maximum allowable level of silica exposure among workers to an average of 50 micrograms of respirable crystalline silica per cubic meter of air over an eight-hour day. Exposure to airborne silica particles has been linked to an increased risk of a number of serious diseases, including silicosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney disease, according to OSHA. The agency estimates that the proposed rule could save 700 lives and prevent 1600 new cases of silicosis each year.

    Silica sand is a common proppant in frac fluid, and usually constitutes about 4.5 percent of the mixture, according to API. Frac site workers are exposed to high concentrations of respirable silica dust as they work with fracturing fluids, according to OSHA. Sources of exposure on the frac jobs include dust ejected from thief hatches on sand movers, released from conveyor belts under the movers, dust generated by truck traffic and created as the sand is dropped into or agitated in the blender hopper, OSHA said in its analysis.

    According to OSHA studies, workers in other industries besides fracking could benefit from the agency’s proposed regulations:

    Exposure to silica is common in construction— airborne silica dust occurs with cutting, sawing, drilling and crushing of concrete, brick and block— and about 1.85 million of the 2.2 million workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica are in the construction trade, OSHA estimates. The rest are exposed through general industry, including about 25,000 in the oil and gas industry. More than 16,000 of those workers are currently exposed above the proposed levels.