Fracking is big business today in Louisiana and numerous other states. In recent years, new fracking technology and new oil and gas fields combined to push the United States into the top oil and gas producer in the world. If you work in one of those fields, however, your long-term health could be at risk, especially from silica exposure.
Both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health are in the process of providing hazard alerts to workers and possible solutions therefor. Workplace hazards they are most concerned about include the following:
- Vehicle crashes
- Fires and explosions
- Confined spaces
- Chemical exposures
Crystalline silica, a/k/a quartz, is a mineral commonly found in rocks, sand, the soil and numerous other materials. When you drill, cut, chip or grind into these materials, the silica breaks down into tiny fibers. Silica is a known lung carcinogen and when you inhale these dust-like fibers, they build up in your lungs, ultimately causing silicosis and other incurable lung diseases.
As a fracking worker, breathing in silica fibers is one of the greatest hazards you face. Per a recent NIOSH field study that collected 116 worksite air samples in five states with multiple fracking sites, 79 percent of the samples contained more than 0.05 milligrams per cubic meter, NIOSH’s recommended maximum.
Nationwide, approximately 2 million workers face hazardous silica exposure each year. Not surprisingly, fracking workers like you are among those at highest risk, but people working in the construction, maritime and manufacturing industries likewise are at high risk. Whether you actively engage in one of the following activities or simply work around those who do, your silica exposure is very high:
- Abrasive blasting
- Rock drilling
- Foundry work
- Quarry work
Another serious risk you face is that of benzene exposure. Benzene is an organic chemical compound often found in the fluids that collect on the surface after fracking. It is a colorless, highly flammable liquid that evaporates into the air very quickly. Benzene, too, is a known carcinogen that harms your blood and bone marrow, causing you to become anemic. Another NIOSH study of 17 fracking sites revealed that 15 of the 17 collected samples exceeded NIOSH’s recommended benzene exposure limit.
As the new supplies of oil and natural gas continue to flow, be sure you understand and follow all the safety measures and precautions OSHA requires your employer to put in place. While fracking sites and their hazards vary widely from location to location, it is in your best interests to keep yourself as safe and healthy as possible.