Stone Fabrication Workers at Risk of Silicosis in Workplace
Cantrell Green is an Orange County law firm with extensive experience in the area of workers comp and disability law. In this article, our attorneys discuss Silicosis and answer questions you may have regarding how it is contracted, and even more importantly, some ways to prevent it.
What is Silicosis?
Silicosis is an incurable lung disease that in most cases is caused by inhaling silica dust. The majority of cases occur in those whose jobs require them to work with engineered stone, or a manufactured stone that is generally made from quartz. When the manufactured stone is cut or ground, silica dust is generated, which is responsible for a number of severe cases of lung disease in workers residing in the states of California, Colorado, Texas, and Washington.
Inhalation of Silica Dust Common in Workers Comp Silicosis Cases
The rising popularity of artificial stone for kitchen and bathroom countertops is thought to be in no small part responsible for a rise in cases of death and irreversible lung injury in the workers who cut, grind and polish it. Engineered stone typically contains over 90% silica, a sharp contrast to granite, which generally contains less than 45% silica, or marble, which contains less than 10%. Once installed, intact countertops containing silica are safe for everyday use.
The rising number of cases of silicosis among countertop fabricators is of major concern. Thousands of employees in the United States work on engineered stone countertops made primarily from silica, and these workers are likely inhaling silica dust in dangerous amounts.
Governmental Agencies Identify Countertop Fabrication as Highly Hazardous Occupation
An article published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 18 cases of silicosis had been identified in four states between 2017 and 2019. Of those 18 cases, two workers died as a result of silicosis, but all had what the CDC termed as “severe, progressive disease.”
The Washington Department of Labor & Industries stated that engineered stone may contain large amounts of silica, making countertop fabrication a highly hazardous occupation. They further went on to suggest that employers must grasp the importance of controlling and monitoring silica dust in the workplace, understand what mitigation protocols are available to do so, and then provide safety equipment and instruction for their employees so as to offer protection against exposure.
Silicosis Risk to Workers Exposed to Silica
There is no doubt that inhaling silica dust may lead to silicosis, which is disabling, irreversible, and sometimes even fatal. Symptoms don’t show up immediately – generally, depending on the levels of exposure, symptoms may occur as early as 5 to 10 years of exposure, up to 15 to 20 years after exposure.
Whenever silica dust is in the air, exposure can occur. Dust is kicked up when workers either saw, grind, polish, shape, or install natural or engineered stone. However, the risk is highest amongst people who work with engineered stone on a regular basis. Exposure can even occur when sweeping dry, dusty floors or when cleaning dusty clothing or equipment.
When a worker is exposed to silica dust, there is a higher risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), kidney disease, and lung cancer. Silica dust exposure can also increase the risk of other lung infections, including tuberculosis.
As with any disease, early diagnosis greatly improves the outcome. Quick diagnosis and early treatment can mean everything to workers and their families. If your job includes working with engineered stone countertops, it would be very wise to tell your physician that you are regularly exposed to silica dust, especially if you are have breathing problems.
How to Protect Workers from Developing Silicosis
The good news is that silicosis is preventable. Last spring, a hazard alert was issued by Washington Department of Labor & Industries that warned companies and workers in Washington who fabricate, finish, or install natural or engineered stone countertops about the risks posed by exposure to silica dust.
Some specific actions required under state and federal law to minimize silica exposure include providing safety education and training to workers, and monitoring and controlling the workplace for silica dust. If silica dust should exceed a specified level, companies are required to provide respiratory protection and further provide medical exams to exposed employees.
Some safety precautions that workers should employ include changing clothes and washing their hair prior to leaving work, to keep the silica dust from spreading to their personal cars or homes. Various agencies are working together with other states and the CDC to provide nationwide tracking and monitoring of additional cases, and to facilitate the sharing of information.
Silicosis Workers Comp Attorneys
If you work with or in proximity to crystalline silica, you should schedule an appointment with your physician right away. If it turns out that you are suffering from silicosis, lung cancer or any type of medical condition that could be caused by exposure to crystalline silica, workers’ compensation benefits and/or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits may be available to you. Additionally, you may be able to file a civil lawsuit against the manufacturer or any other party that has contributed to your exposure. The options available to you depend on how your exposure occurred.
If you live in the greater Orange County, our attorneys at Cantrell Green are available to help you. We will investigate your unique circumstances, and employ our expertise in the areas of personal injury law, workers’ comp and all other relevant remedies. The first step is to call us to schedule a free consultation, in which we will discuss the elements of your case, and determine how we can best help you in seeking medical care and monetary damages.
Call our Workers Compensation attorneys for a FREE CONSULTATION: 800-964-8047