Silicosis is a lung disease that develops as a result of breathing in crystalline silica particles. When crystalline silica is cut, ground, drilled, or chipped away, particles or dust are released into the air. Workers in the vicinity can breathe in those particles, resulting in damage to their lungs. Many workers are later diagnosed with silicosis or other related diseases.
What is Crystalline Silica?
Crystalline silica is a mineral that is commonly found in sand, soil, stone, granite, quartz, and many other varieties of rock. It can also be used as a component in abrasive blasting compounds.
Crystalline silica is responsible for around 100 deaths each year in the United States. Workers who are exposed report the following effects:
- Lung cancer
- Interstitial Lung Disease
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- Renal Disease
What is Silicosis?
When a worker breathes in crystalline silica dust, his or her lungs react by producing scar tissue and fibrotic nodules. These nodules trap the silica particles. As the nodules grow in size, the patient experiences difficulty breathing, and may develop related medical conditions. There are three known types of silicosis:
- Acute Silicosis
- Chronic Silicosis
- Accelerated Silicosis
Current estimates suggest that between 1-2 million U.S. workers are currently at risk for developing silicosis as a result of occupational exposure. What is most alarming about this estimate is the fact that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) considers silicosis to be 100 percent preventable.
Silicosis is Preventable
In 2013, OSHA revised safety guidelines for crystalline silica exposure. For decades, guidelines related to silica dust exposure were relaxed, and did not provide adequate protection for workers. The new guidelines required businesses to more carefully monitor crystalline silica levels at work sites. Further, applicable businesses are required to provide testing for their workers – including X-rays and lung function tests – every three years.
Businesses were further urged to implement better systems of ventilation and vacuuming to reduce breathable particles in work areas. Workers should also be provided with PPEs, such as face masks or respirators, which have been shown to limit exposure to silica dust.
What Workers Should Do
If you work in an occupation that exposes you to crystalline silica, get medical attention right away if you experience symptoms associated with silicosis or other lung disorders. Silicosis is a dangerous disease, and there is currently no known cure. However, with timely diagnosis and treatment, symptoms can be managed.
After getting medical attention, workers should also contact a silicosis lawyer to discuss their condition. Workers who have developed silicosis may have been exposed to the toxic dust as a result of inadequate safety and health measures by their employer. In such cases, the worker may be entitled to compensation for the harm caused.
At Akin Mears, L.L.P., our lawyers are here to help. Let us consult on your case and determine the best possible options for protecting your legal rights.