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Silica Dust Compliance: Has Your Insurance Company Come Knocking Yet?

Posted on October 2, 2018

We’ve written a lot about OSHA’s new silica dust rule. For the most part, we’ve focused on how you can prepare for the inevitable time when OSHA inspectors show up looking for dust clouds.

However, OSHA isn’t the only agency that can dole out consequences to companies that aren’t compliant with current regulatory standards. Insurance agencies can too, in the form of higher premiums or dropped coverage. In fact, the penalties from insurance agencies can be even higher than OSHA’s, because insurance agencies have a vested financial interest in ensuring their clients comply with all applicable standards to avoid costly lawsuits.

Here, we’ll answer a few common questions about silica dust and insurance, as well as outline what insurance inspectors want to see when they evaluate a jobsite or facility. Please note that this doesn’t constitute legal advice or take the place of talking to your insurance agency. But, we hope you find this information helpful as you continue your compliance journey.

What recourse do employees have for health problems due to silica dust exposure?

An employee who develops silicosis or other health problems caused by silica dust exposure can file a workers compensation claim. These employees may be entitled to benefits including medical leave, payment for medical bills, a percentage of wages, and more.

Workers compensation requirements and regulations differ by state, so make sure you’re informed about the laws where you operate. As an example, in North Carolina, a worker with confirmed silicosis is assumed to be disabled — and thus entitled to benefits — for the first 104 weeks. That’s two years, and there’s the potential for benefits to continue up to 300 weeks, or almost six years.

Does your general liability insurance policy cover silica dust exposure?

Workers compensation claims aren’t the only ways companies can be held liable for silica dust exposure. In one case, summarized here by AmWINS Group, a masonry contractor doing a renovation project was sued by employees of a nearby office building who said they were exposed to silica dust because the contractor hadn’t taken the required steps to prevent the dust from escaping the job site.

These types of cases fall under liability, but many companies are discovering that their general liability insurance doesn’t cover silica-related claims. This is because silica is considered a pollutant, and pollutants are often excluded from general liability policies.

Click here to read about a lawsuit in which the court agreed that silica was not covered under a general liability policy that contained a pollutant exclusion. And be sure to talk to your insurance company about your coverage.

What are insurance inspectors looking for?

Even if you do have full coverage under your insurance, your premiums will depend on the precautions you’re taking to keep your employees — and anyone else who could be exposed to silica because of your activities — safe.

Here’s a good explanation from the experts at the Safety First Consulting blog:

“[When] safety consultants from the insurance company arrive on site, their primary purpose is to be the eyes and ears of the underwriter, who sets the premium for the account. If the company appears to have a less-than-average safety program implementation, that will be communicated back to the underwriter for the purpose of premium adjustment.”

How do you ensure your safety program is up to par when insurance inspectors show up? The same way you prepare for OSHA inspectors — by having a written safety plan that complies with OSHA standards and by using proper equipment and approved work practices to keep worker exposure below the permissible limit.

An industrial vacuum cleaner is a powerful tool to keep dust contained on jobsites and in factories. Check out our top 10 recommended vacuums for silica dust applications.