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OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.
August 20, 1996
Mr. Richard N. Shapiro
Wilson, Hajek & Shapiro, P.C.
Attorneys At Law
1294 Diamond Springs Road
Post Office Box 5369
Virginia Beach, Virginia 23455
Dear Mr. Shapiro:
Thank you for your letter of June 28, on behalf of railroad workers and their exposure to crystalline silica. The special emphasis program you discussed applies to all industries and would include railroad workers. Our jurisdiction on railroads is limited primarily to the tracks and does not include rolling stock or the railroad yards. The exposures you discussed involved work on the tracks which is under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) jurisdiction.
Targeting of inspections under this special emphasis program has been delegated to our local field offices. Each office will establish inspection lists for their respective areas based upon the severity of silica-related exposures or incidence of silicosis in different industries. To coordinate these activities, a silicosis coordinator (enclosure) has been designated in each of our regional offices. A copy of your letter has been forwarded to each silicosis coordinator. The regional coordinators will advise their respective field offices of the hazards and potential exposures to workers working on the tracks. Employees can also contact their local office to file a complaint if they feel that they are over exposed to crystalline silica and their employer has not undertaken steps to protect them.
Your interest in our silicosis program is very much appreciated. If we can be of further assistance or provide any additional information please do not hesitate to contact the Office of Health Compliance Assistance at (202) 219-8036. We have also enclosed for your information a list of our regional silicosis coordinators.
Joseph A. Dear Assistant Secretary
June 28, 1996
Joseph A. Dear
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Washington, DC 20210
Re: Special Emphasis Program - Silicosis
Dear Mr. Dear
I received the OSHA memorandum dated May 22, 1996 regarding a special emphasis program as to silicosis in the work place. I was forwarded the information by a industrial hygienist who has had prior involvement with our law firm. Our firm represents rail workers, many of whom have contracted silicosis or mixed dust lung disease caused by long term railroad dust exposures.
I wanted to be absolutely sure that OSHA was promoting its special emphasis program with the nation's major railroads. There are a number of high risk silica exposure jobs in track repair and track maintenance jobs with railroads such as Norfolk Southern, CSX and the other major U.S. railroads. Many of these workers operate heavy machinery that manipulate, groom and otherwise disturb railroad track rock (called "ballast rock"), often creating clouds of silica dust. Many of the nation's railroads utilize granite. Presumably you are aware that granite contains varying amounts of crystalline silica, usually anywhere from 20%-50%.
Our firm has represented scores of railroad workers that have brought injury lawsuits against railroads, for contraction of silicosis, interstitial lung disorders, etc. as a result of long term exposure to granite rock dust involved in track repair activities. As a matter of fact, we have settled a number of cases, contested by the major railroads, and have obtained compensation or verdicts.
I trust OSHA is aware of the problem, particularly given that NIOSH conducted a health hazard evaluation on Norfolk Southern Railway Company in the 1990's and there is currently a health hazard evaluation still pending that NIOSH conducted of CSX.
I hope that the above provides information that you already have. If this is anything new to OSHA, I would suggest that you feel free to have any appropriate official with OSHA contact our office and we can provide much further detail.
I also note on Page 1755 of the memorandum relating to the SEP, that there is the indication that crystalline silica is commonly found and used in the "railroad industry" (setting and laying track). While this is essentially true, the most significant exposure sources for railroad workers are particularly from the laying or "grooming" of ballast rock (generally granite or limestone) and the maintenance and grooming of this rock at later dates. The exposure risk is not in the "laying of the track". The risk is associated with the manipulation of the rock, which happens not only when the track is laid, but when the track is repaired or maintained.
Further, under Pages 1756-1757 I do not see explicit reference to the railroad industry, although NIOSH has particularly found a health hazard exists in the railroad industries in studies done in the last five years.
I look forward to addressing any comments or response that you may have.
Very truly yours,
Richard N. Shapiro
Medical College of Virginia