Injured workers: Silica dangers at Colorado fracking sites
Colorado workers at fracking sites are exposed to a disease that dates back to ancient times and one that remains a severe threat. The danger is in the silica particles — often too small for the eye to see — that are contained in the sand that is used in the fracking process. After a 2012 study, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) alerted the industry of the potential danger which can cause lung cancer in injured workers.
Airborne dust containing minute crystalline particles of silica are inhaled by workers. The particles slice into the insides of the lungs and build up over time. This can ultimately cause lung cancer, but symptoms may only present years after exposure. For this reason, statistics of worker claims related to silicosis are not available yet, and it is unknown how many workers are unknowingly already affected.
Fortunately, some fracking companies heeded the warnings of NIOSH and are taking steps to protect workers against silica exposure. Instead of using compressed air blowers to offload fracking sand, some operators are now transporting the sand in sealed containers that can be opened at the bottom to allow the sand to flow out rather than being blown into large clouds of dust. Others make use of covered conveyor belts to contain the dust while the fracking sand is moved on the site.
Although silicosis is an incurable disease, it is totally preventable. Unfortunately, until all employers recognize the potential danger, Colorado workers on fracking sites will continue to inhale silica particles. Exposed or injured workers may benefit from regular medical evaluations. Those who are suffering any silicosis symptoms may pursue workers’ compensation benefits to cover medical expenses and lost wages.