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New OSHA requirements may affect compensation claims

New workplace rules from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration could have an effect on the amount of silica dust breathed in by Pennsylvania workers while on the job. Breathing in too much sand or crystalline silica can cause silicosis, an occupational disease that affects the lungs and can lead to more serious illnesses such as lung cancer, tuberculosis, kidney and autoimmune problems.

Silicosis has long been a recognized problem in construction and manufacturing trades, but it is also beginning to show up in workers from the growing natural gas industry where it is an important ingredient in fracking fluid recipes that are used to blast through underground rock to open pathways to natural gas. In 2012, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that natural gas industry workers are often exposed to silica that's more than 10 times the current permissible level. New OSHA rules would cut permissible levels by half and require companies to provide medical exams for works and to monitor silica exposure.

Silicosis and related lung disease take a heavy toll on American workers who often experience shortness of breath and have difficulty walking. OSHA estimates the new rules will save 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of the disease each year. Some doctors may be reluctant to diagnose patients with silicosis out of fear of being caught in workers' compensation lawsuits.

Individuals who believe they have been injured by silica dust or other workplace hazards may possibly obtain relief by working with workers' compensation attorneys knowledgeable about the latest federal requirements for safety. Experienced lawyers may be able to help injured employees secure compensation for missed work and medical payments for treatments related to diseases and injuries acquired on the job.

Source: State Impact Pennsylvania, "How Could OSHA’s New Silica Rules Impact The Natural Gas Industry?", Katie Colaneri, August 29, 2013

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