When Labor Department officials announced stricter rules on silica dust
exposure in late March, they were responding to a National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) 2010-2011 field study that assessed
work injury to oil and gas workers in the North Dakota Bakken as well as sites in Colorado,
Texas, Arkansas and Pennsylvania.
In a 2013 report, NIOSH found that 47% of workers showed exposure over
the OSHA limit with 9% showing exposure 10x above the limit while 31%
had personal breathing
zone samples over 10x the NIOSH limit. The agency collected samples from workers
during 8 and 10 hour shifts at 11 well sites from August, 2010 to September, 2011.
In the Bakken region and the other sites, the agency determined that several
operations caused hazardous conditions:
During refilling operations while sand moving machines are running, workers
had exposure to silica dust coming from the thief hatches on top of the
movers and dust from open side fill ports.
Exposure also came from vehicle traffic stirring up dust at fracking sites.
Transfer belts under the sand movers emitted dust.
When sand drops into or tosses around in blender hoppers and on transfer
belts, there is risk of silica exposure.
There are dust emissions from transfer belts operating between the sand
mover and blender and from at the end the sand mover’s transfer belt.
Currently, OSHA has a National Emphasis Program in the Bakken and other
drilling sites which performs programmed inspections for oil and gas operations
with known silica exposure risks. The inspections include air sampling
and monitoring, spot checking personal protective equipment and reviewing
the operator's Respiratory Protection Program. In addition, the program
works to ensure that companies are aware and compliant with the silica PEL.
If you have experienced work injury at a Bakken oil and gas drilling operation, please
contact us. We can help.