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OSHA increases fines for violating crystalline silica standard

Under the revised Occupational Safety and Health Administration fine schedule, construction companies in Missouri and around the country could owe up to $129,336 for exposing their workers to dangerous levels of crystalline silica. OSHA increased the penalties for violating crystalline silica in January. Construction companies will now be required to pay $12,934 for each violation of the silica standard and $12,934 per day until measures are implemented to reduce dust levels. The highest fines are reserved for companies that repeatedly violate the rules.

Maintaining safe levels of crystalline silica can be difficult on construction sites as large amounts of dust are created when concrete is cut, sanded or drilled. The inhalation of this dust has been linked to a number of serious health issues, including kidney disease, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Proper safety training is important because the dangers of silica inhalation may not be immediately apparent. However, the dust accumulates in the lungs over time and makes breathing increasingly difficult.

OSHA figures suggest that 2.3 million Americans are exposed to dangerous silica. Steps that construction companies can take to protect their workers include insisting that concrete is wet before it is cut and issuing respiratory masks when wet cutting is not possible. The revised silica standard is part of OSHA's effort to reduce accidents, injuries and deaths in the construction sector. Government workplace safety statistics reveal that about 14 construction workers are killed in on-the-job accidents every day.

Workers who are injured while on the job or develop illnesses after being exposed to harmful substances in the workplace generally file workers' compensation claims. However, a victim may pursue a personal injury lawsuit instead if their employer routinely flouted safety regulations. Attorneys could point to fines handed out for repeated violations to demonstrate that an employer was willfully negligent.

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