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Fracking Exposes Workers to High Levels of Silica and Other Health Hazards

If you work in the hydraulic fracturing industry—better known as “fracking”—you may be exposed to high levels of crystalline silica, putting you at risk of developing silicosis, lung cancer and other debilitating diseases, according to a letter sent today from the AFL-CIO, Mine Workers (UMWA) and the United Steelworkers (USW) to the top federal safety agencies.

The letter highlights a recent two-year National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) assessment, which found that, among those exposed, 79 percent of samples for silica exceeded the NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limits.

Silica sand is a major component of the fracking process. The sand is mixed with large volumes of water and chemical additives and injected under high pressure by drilling into shale rock. Massive quantities of sand are used and workers are at risk of high levels of exposure during multiple points of the fracking process. 

In addition to the health hazards, workers in the oil and gas extraction industries face high rates of fatal occupational injuries. Between 2003 and 2009, there were 27.5 deaths per 100,000 workers, a rate more than seven times higher than the fatality rate for all U.S. workers.  

As the fracking industry continues to rapidly grow, and as more workers enter the field with little experience or knowledge about the potential hazards in this industry, it is vital the government, companies and unions work together to ensure workers have the work safety and health knowledge, training and protection they need.

The letter urges the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), NIOSH and the Mine Safety and Health Administration to take immediate action and issue a joint “hazard alert” that identifies the occupational safety and health hazards in the fracking industry, with a special focus on silica exposures. It also recommends OSHA to take immediate steps to initiate rule making on a new silica standard that includes requirements for exposure monitoring and medical surveillance and NIOSH to expand its field work in the fracking industry to include medical surveillance of workers.

Click here for the full letter.  

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