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The dangers of granular absorbents in the workplace

Slips and falls are among the most common causes of workplace accidents and injuries in West Virginia and around the country, and OSHA has put standards into place that require employers to keep their facilities clean and respond to spills promptly. However, some of the materials used in workplaces to mop up spills could pose a threat to workers' health. Granular absorbent materials are commonly placed on liquid spills as either a temporary measure or a more permanent solution, but many of these products contain dangerous amounts of respirable silica.

Diatomaceous earth is one of the most popular granular absorbents because it is inexpensive and effective, but its fine particles are made up almost entirely of silica and can cause silicosis when inhaled. Silica exposure has also been linked to deadly and debilitating conditions including lung cancer, kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. OSHA has introduced a final rule that places limits on silica exposure that the agency believes will save the lives of more than 600 American workers each year.

Alternatives to potentially dangerous silica-based compounds include natural materials such as coconut, cellulose and corn cob as well as synthetic products like polypropylene-based pads and mats. When using these products and materials, employers should pay particular attention to high-traffic areas and machinery that is prone to dripping or leaking.

Employers fearing a wave of similar complaints may be more likely to contest the workers' compensation claims of employees who have become sick after being exposed to toxic substances like silica in the workplace. Attorneys familiar with the process will likely be aware of this, and they may call upon medical experts and specialists to establish that their clients developed illnesses due to environmental hazards in their workplaces.

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