One workplace safety expert recently observed fracking in person and saw huge amounts of silica dust swirling in the air around workers. The silica is a result of workers drilling into the rock with a combination of water, chemicals and sand to extract oil and gas. Sand and silica have long been known to cause serious workplace injuries such as lung disease and cancer. In industries such as mining, manufacturing and construction, workers have traditionally suffered from silica exposure, but with the recent rise in fracking, safety experts are realizing the dangers of this new industry.

While the safety expert initially planned to assess the impact of chemicals in the fracking field, he quickly saw that he needed to focus on the dangers of the dust instead. As he traveled to 11 sites in five states across the nation, he collected air contaminated by silica dust. He found that the dust levels were 79 percent above the recommended maximum limit set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The industry has been difficult to monitor because businesses quickly set up the drilling for the wells and then go on to the next location.

Although workers wore respirators, some of the levels were so excessive that they did not protect the workers. The White House Office of Management and Budget has been reviewing controls on silica across the board. A group of unions has joined forces to advocate for increased silica regulation.

When new industries, including fracking, are born, workplace risks and injuries can be part of the territory. In Pennsylvania, attorneys who understand the safety measures that companies need to take may defend the rights of workers who suffer from exposure to silica dust or other work-related injuries.

Source: NPR, “Sand From Fracking Could Pose Lung Disease Risk To Workers,” Nell GreenfieldBoyce, March 29, 2013