Quartz countertops are increasing in popularity, which is drawing concern among safety officials about worker protection. The focus of safety concerns is on quartz worker silicosis. Quartz contains twice as much crystalline silica as other compounds like natural granite. When workers manufacture and cut quartz countertops, they are at risk for inhaling silica dust particles.
Numerous quartz countertop workers in the United States have developed severe lung disease after working with engineered stone. Of those, two workers have died due to their illness. Other workers live with the knowledge that they will eventually need a lung transplant in order to survive the illness.
What is Quartz Worker Silicosis?
Silicosis is a serious lung disease that develops in people who have breathed in silica dust. Quartz workers who mix, process, cut or install countertops may breathe in silica dust over a period of time. Unlike other types of dust, silica dust is difficult to expel from the lungs. Instead, it attaches to the soft tissues of the lungs causing irritation and fluid buildup.
Over time, scar tissue forms, which causes symptoms including:
- Chronic cough
- Difficulty breathing
- Weight loss
- Chest pain
These symptoms worsen as the disease progresses. There is currently no known cure for silicosis. There are treatment options that may help relieve symptoms, but most patients with silicosis develop deterioration of their health over time. Many require lung transplants.
Quartz Industry is Booming
The engineered quartz industry has experienced massive growth in recent years. Engineered quartz countertops are among the most popular due to their durability and cost. The countertops look like granite or marble, but are actually less expensive quartz. These features have quartz countertops rising in popularity worldwide.
Quartz comes to manufacturers in powder or pebble form. It is then fabricated into countertops of all shapes, sizes and finishes. Some companies produce as much as 30 million pounds of quartz per month. Manufacturers of engineered stone recognize that there are strict guidelines for dust control and air quality. Some companies have spent millions of dollars on ventilation and air-handling equipment.
Sadly, many other companies do not have adequate air-handling equipment to protect workers from exposure to silica dust. Countertop fabrication is not regulated or licensed like other industries, which means there is a lack of oversight on safety. Because of this, some countries are calling for a ban on engineered quartz countertop manufacturing.
Who is at Risk for Quartz Worker Silicosis?
There are an estimated 100,000 countertop fabrication workers in the U.S. These workers are at risk for exposure to silica dust at various stages in the manufacturing, distribution and installation processes. During manufacturing, workers may come in contact with silica dust as they combine, mix, tint and process the powder or pebbles of quartz.
Outside of manufacturing, workers are at risk during installation. Even if manufacturers follow safety guidelines, if an installer does not properly outfit workers with personal protective equipment (PPE), then the worker may inhale silica dust particles.
Silicosis is Preventable
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), quartz worker silicosis is completely preventable. If work environments follow all safety guidelines, workers will be safe. Unfortunately, countertop companies continue to use unsafe methods. For example, dry cutting stone slabs.
Surveys have indicated that a majority of countertop companies use dry cutting methods, which distribute a lot of dust into the air. In fact, some companies have reported airborne silica dust levels of 20 to 40 times higher than the OSHA exposure limits. Over time, quartz workers suffer exposure to high levels of silica dust, which puts them at risk for silicosis.
Do You Have a Quartz Worker Silicosis Claim?
If you have ever worked in quartz countertop fabrication and have since been diagnosed with silicosis, the silicosis lawyers at AkinMears, L.L.P. would like to speak with you. You may have a claim and may be able to pursue compensation for your injuries.
Learn more about your rights by scheduling a consultation with one of our skilled lawyers. We offer a free consultation to every potential client, so you have nothing to lose. Get started by calling us at 855-489-7853, or by completing our online contact form.