Each year, more than 250 American workers die from silicosis and more than 1 million U.S. workers are exposed to crystalline silica. Unfortunately, there is no cure for the disease, but it is 100 percent preventable if employers, workers and health professionals work together to reduce exposures.
Overexposure to dust that contains microscopic particles of crystalline silica can cause scar tissue to form in the lungs, which reduces the lungs ability to extract oxygen from the air we breathe. Typical sand found at the beach does not pose a silicosis threat.
If you or someone you know is suffering from this type of personal injury, that individual may be eligible to receive compensation benefits.
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What Is Silicosis?
Silicosis is a disabling, irreversible and sometimes fatal lung disease caused by over-exposure to breathable crystalline silica. Silica is the second most common mineral in the Earth's crust and is a major component of sand, rock and mineral ores.
In addition to silicosis, inhalation of crystalline silica particles has been associated with other diseases, such as bronchitis and tuberculosis. Some studies also indicate an association with lung cancer.
There are three types of silicosis, depending upon the airborne concentration of crystalline silica to which a worker has been exposed:
- Chronic Silicosis usually occurs after 10 or more years of exposure.
- Accelerated Silicosis results from higher exposures and develops over 5-10 years.
- Acute Silicosis occurs where exposures are the highest and can cause symptoms to develop within a few weeks or up to 5 years.
How do you know if you are at risk?
Working in any dusty environment where crystalline silica is present potentially can increase your chances of getting silicosis. If a number of workers are working in a dusty environment and one is diagnosed with silicosis, the others should be examined to see if they might also be developing silicosis.
Where Do You Find Silica Dust?
Here are some examples of the industries and activities that pose the greatest potential risk for worker exposure:
- construction (sandblasting, rock drilling, masonry work, jack hammering, tunneling)
- mining (cutting or drilling through sandstone and granite)
- foundry work (grinding, moldings, shakeout, core room)
- ceramics, clay, and pottery
- stone cutting (sawing, abrasive blasting, chipping, grinding)
- glass manufacturing
- shipyards (abrasive blasting)
- railroad (setting and laying track)
- manufacturing and use of abrasives
- manufacturing of soaps and detergents
More than 100,000 workers in the United States encounter high-risk, silica exposures through sandblasting, rock drilling and mining. Workers who remove paint and rust from buildings, bridges, tanks and other surfaces; clean foundry castings; work with stone or clay; etch or frost glass; and work in construction are at risk of overexposure to crystalline silica.
What Are the Symptoms and Complications of Silicosis?
Chronic silicosis, the most common form of the disease, may go undetected for years in the early stages; in fact, a chest x-ray may not reveal an abnormality until after 15 or 20 years of exposure. The body's ability to fight infections may be overwhelmed by silica dust in the lungs, making workers more susceptible to certain illnesses, such as tuberculosis.
As silicosis progresses, you may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:
- shortness of breath following physical exertion
- severe cough
- loss of appetite
- chest pains
How Can You Determine if You Have Silicosis?
If you believe you are overexposed to silica dust, visit a doctor who knows about lung diseases. A medical examination that includes a complete work history, a chest x-ray, and lung function test is the only sure way to determine if you have silicosis. NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) recommends that medical examinations occur before job placement or upon entering a trade, and at least every 2 years thereafter.
What Can Workers Do to Prevent Silicosis?
- Work with your employer to prevent silicosis at your work site.
- Use engineering controls installed by your employer to reduce silica dust levels, and make sure they are properly maintained. Tell your employer when these controls aren't working properly.
- Minimize dust by following good work practices, such as removing dust with a water hose or vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate filter rather than blowing it clean with compressed air, or by wet sweeping instead of dry sweeping.
- Suggest to your employer to substitute less hazardous materials than crystalline silica for abrasive blasting.
- Wear, maintain, and correctly use approved particulate respirators when engineering controls alone are not adequate to reduce exposures below permissible levels. Beards and mustaches interfere with the respirator seal to the face, making most respirators ineffective.
- If you must sandblast, use type CE positive pressure abrasive blasting.
- Participate in air monitoring, medical surveillance, and training programs offered by your employer or when required by law.
- Talk to your employer, employee representative, or union if you are concerned about the dust in your workplace. Ask for the results of air sampling done at your work site. You may also contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
As a reminder, whenever you work with toxic materials, it is always a sound practice to:
- Change into disposable or washable work clothes at your work site, if possible; shower, where available; and change into clean clothing before leaving your work site.
- Avoid eating, drinking, or using tobacco products in work areas where there is dust or other toxic materials.
- Wash your hands and face before eating or drinking.
If you or a family member has been diagnosed with silicosis or has been exposed on the job, you may be able to file a claim.
Call Harbin & Burnett LLP today at 1(888)821-02478 for a free no obligation consultation.