Silica Exposure at Fracking Sites Prompts Alert

The State Journal
22 June 2012
By Taylor Kuykendall, Reporter

Natural gas drillers are being urged by federal agencies to monitor the hazards of silica exposure on hydraulic fracturing sites.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health issued a hazard alert yesterday, letting employers know that a study from NIOSH identified overexposure to silica as a health hazard for workers at hydraulic fracturing sites.

"Hazardous exposures to silica can and must be prevented. It is important for employers and workers to understand the hazards associated with silica exposure in hydraulic fracturing operations and how to protect workers," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health. "OSHA and NIOSH are committed to continuing to work with the industry and workers to find effective solutions to address these hazards."

Exposure to respirable silica is a common hazard across a variety of industries.

NIOSH began working with the industry in 2012 to collect data on silica exposure at hydraulic fracturing operations. They identified seven primary sources of silica dust exposure during fracturing operation. The highest exposures were among workers downwind of sand mover and blender operations.

The biggest risk for workers is development of silicosis, a condition linked to lung cancer and other disease.

"Through partnerships, both businesses and safety professionals are able to collaborate on assessing and managing occupational safety and health risks," said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. "The recommendations for protecting workers in the hazard alert are practical, evidence-based and effective solutions to help support the safe growth of American-made energy."

 Recommendations include "a combination of engineering controls, work practices, protective equipment and product substitution, where feasible, along with worker training."

"We applaud the efforts of the NIOSH NORA Council for Oil and Gas Extraction, OSHA and our partners from industry for helping to raise awareness of this hazard," said Kenny Jordan, executive director of the Association of Energy Service Companies."

According to the NIOSH news release, AFL-CIO Health and Safety Director Margaret Seminario said, "The AFL-CIO strongly supports this hazard alert that provides important information to employers and workers involved in hydraulic fracturing operations regarding the serious health threat from silica exposures. It is critical that OSHA and NIOSH disseminate this information, so that immediate action can be taken to protect workers from silicosis and other silica-related diseases.".