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Grace period ends for compliance with silica dust standards

Louisiana workers whose duties might expose them to crystalline silica dust should expect their employers to comply with the new safety standards developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The agency had delayed full enforcement of the rules meant to prevent unhealthy exposures to respirable dust until July 23 for companies showing a good faith effort to comply with regulations. With full enforcement now in effect, employers will need to offer their workers medical surveillance under certain circumstances to detect silica disease early.

Employers must provide medical evaluations at no cost to employees when silica dust exceeds permissible levels for 30 or more days during a 12-month period. The 30 days do not have to be consecutive. Dust exposure that occurred while working with a previous employer will not carry over to count toward the 30 days with a current employer.

Although regulations do not require employees to accept medical exams, workers exposed to silica dust might want to know if it is affecting their respiratory health. OSHA mandated the medical evaluations to alert people to lung disease that might arise after breathing silica dust. Medical evaluations could impress upon people the hazards associated with silica exposure and allow people to obtain treatment.

Occupational diseases could qualify for benefits to pay medical expenses and cover lost income under the terms of the employer's workers' compensation insurance coverage. A person suffering from a disease caused by a workplace might want legal representation when filing a claim because an employer might dispute its liability for the person's health. An attorney might collect information linking workplace exposure to specific diseases and connect a person with an independent medical evaluation. The efforts of an attorney might overcome a denial from an insurance company.

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