The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSH A) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH ) have jointly issued a hazard alert notifying employers that they must ensure that workers are protected from overexposure to silica during hydraulic fracturing operations. The alert follows a cooperative NIOSH and oil and gas industry representatives’ study that sampled air at 11 sites in five states where hydraulic fracturing operations were taking place. NIOSH identified seven primary sources of silica dust exposure during fracturing operations and found that workers downwind of sand mover and blender operations, especially during hot loading, had the highest silica exposures.
According to the alert, workers who breathe silica day after day are at greater risk of developing silicosis, a disease in which lung tissue reacts to trapped silica particles, causing inflammation and scarring, reducing the lung’s ability to take in oxygen. Silica has also been linked to lung cancer, tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney and autoimmune diseases. The alert describes how a combination of engineering controls, work practices, protective equipment, and product substitution can protect exposed workers. Training is also deemed an important element for worker protection.