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Silica Exposure during Hydraulic Fracturing
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) identified exposure to airborne silica as a health hazard to workers conducting some hydraulic fracturing operations. This InfoSheet discusses the hazards of silica, how you can be exposed, what actions employers must take to reduce exposures, and your rights as a worker.
In May 2012, NIOSH reported that workers may be exposed to dust with high levels of respirable crystalline silica (silica) during hydraulic fracturing. Silica is a common mineral found in the earth's crust. It occurs primarily as quartz and is a major component of the sand, clay and stone materials used to make everyday products such as concrete, brick and glass. Large amounts of sand are frequently used in hydraulic fracturing operations ("fracking").
What are the health hazards of silica?
How are workers exposed to silica on hydraulic fracturing sites?
Dust containing silica can be released when sand is off-loaded from transport trucks and transported through movers, along transfer belts, and into blender hoppers. You can be exposed to silica if you breathe the dust.
Primary sources where dust can be released include:
How do you know if silica is being released into the air?
To determine silica exposure levels, your employer should collect air samples using devices that measure the amount of silica in a worker's breathing zone. This enables employers to determine which jobs may expose workers to silica and the levels of silica in the air. The OSHA permissible exposure limit for worker exposure to silica is approximately 0.1 mg/m3 for pure quartz silica.
How can worker exposures to silica in the air be reduced?
- Reduce the amount of silica dust.
Work practices that can be used now:
Work practices that involve equipment modification:
- Use respirators when required. When respirators are required, your employer must have a respiratory protection program that meets the requirements of OSHA's Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134). This program must include proper respirator selection, fit testing, medical evaluations, and training. All respirators need to be NIOSH-approved.
- Inform and train workers on the hazards of silica and other chemicals. OSHA's Hazard Communication standard requires your employer to provide workers training and access to safety data sheets (SDSs) on silica sand and other hazardous chemicals used or produced during hydraulic fracturing operations.
This InfoSheet is advisory in nature and informational in content. It is not a standard or regulation, and it neither creates new legal obligations nor alters existing obligations created by OSHA standards or the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act). Pursuant to the OSH Act, employers must comply with safety and health standards and regulations issued and enforced either by OSHA or by an OSHA-approved state plan. In addition, the Act's General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1), requires employers to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. The mention of any nongovernmental organization or link to its web site in this Infosheet does not constitute an endorsement by OSHA of that organization or its products, services, or web site.
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