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").
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:
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.
- Reduce the amount of silica dust.
Under OSHA law, employers have the responsibility to provide a safe workplace.
Workers must receive information and training (in a language and vocabulary they can understand) about workplace hazards, methods to prevent them, and the OSHA standards that apply.
Workers can review records of work-related injuries and illnesses as well as get copies of test results that find and measure hazards.
Workers may confidentially ask OSHA to inspect their workplace if they believe that their employer is not following OSHA standards or that there are serious hazards.
Workers have the right to use their rights under the law, including their right to report a work-related injury or illness, free from discrimination or retaliation.
For more information, to ask a question, or to file a complaint, visit www.OSHA.gov or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). It is confidential.
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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