By Brent I. Clark and Craig B. Simonsen

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently issued a hazard alert on hydraulic fracturing operations intended to protect workers from silica exposure. According to the OSHA press release the action was taken after consultation with stakeholders and that it also meets the Obama Administration’s focus on ensuring that this important industry continues to be developed safely and responsibly.

The hazard alert follows a cooperative study by NIOSH with industry partners that identified “overexposure to silica as a health hazard” to workers conducting hydraulic fracturing operations.

“NIOSH worked in cooperation with oil and gas industry partners to sample the air at eleven 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.”

The hazard alert suggests a combination of engineering controls, work practices, personal protective equipment, and product substitution, along with worker training, to minimize worker exposure to silica. While a hazard alert does not amount to a regulatory requirement, employers should consider its findings and the feasibility of adopting the suggested measures at their work sites. At a minimum, employers involved in these activities should ensure that they are complying with their obligations regarding silica and other safety issues.