A new rule recently issued by the Department of Labor aims to protect workers from dangerous silica dust. Silica comes from a variety of different materials, including brick, stone, and concrete, when they are broken. If inhaled, silica dust can scar a person’s lungs and lead to Connecticut residents suffering workplace illnesses such as cancer and silicosis.

Under the new rule, permissible silica dust exposure limits will be reduced across a variety of industries. Under the previous rule, in effect since the early 1970s, construction workers could be exposed to no more than 250 micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air. The new rule will allow only 50 micrograms of silica per cubic meter of air for those in the construction industry, as well as those working in general industry.

Depending on their industry, employers have between one and five years to implement the new safety precautions. The methods employers will use to control silica dust will vary, but it may be as simple as using vacuums and wetting down surfaces to prevent workers from being exposed to the dangerous dust. Additionally, workers may be required to wear respirators for their own protection.

This new rule may have a significant impact on the health of the roughly 2.3 million people working in industries where they are exposed to silica dust. The head of OSHA estimates that the new rule will save the lives of approximately 600 workers a year, and also may lead to a reduction of more than 900 silicosis cases annually. These forecasted improvements suggest positive changes for many workers.

Unfortunately, however, this rule may come too late to prevent silica-induced lung disease or other occupational diseases for some workers. Therefore, workers who are suffering from such a workplace illness may wish to seek legal counsel regarding their rights and options.

Source: NPR, “Tighter, Controversial Silica Rules Aimed At Saving Workers’ Lungs,” Nell Greenfieldboyce, March 24, 2016