Silicosis: A Dangerous Disease at the Work Site
Silicosis is an incurable lung disease that is caused by inhaling tiny particles of silica, a mineral found in sand, rock, and some ores. If you walk along a sandy beach or hike in a rocky, sandy area, your exposure to silica will normally be minimal and harmless. However, you are at high risk for developing silicosis if you work at a dusty, silica–laden job site.
In the United States, over 1 million people are exposed to silica dust at work, including over 100,000 sandblasters (World Health Organization, Silicosis). According to the Department of Labor, high-risk industries, occupations, and activities include:
- Construction, where silica-containing rock or concrete may be chipped, hauled, drilled, crushed, or hammered
- Most sandblasting activities
- Demolition of concrete or masonry structures
- Jackhammering or tunneling
- Mining, which includes cutting through silica-containing sandstone and granite
- Producing ceramics, clay, and pottery
- Manufacturing and use of abrasives
- Stone cutting
- Glass manufacturing
- Foundry work
- Agriculture (dusty conditions from disturbing the soil)
- Shipbuilding that requires an abrasive blasting
- Setting and laying railroad tracks
- Removing paint and rust from buildings and bridges
How Silicosis Affects Your Health
Early symptoms of silicosis include shortness of breath, coughing, tiredness, and chest pain. Patients later have more difficulty breathing and are at high risk of developing tuberculosis. In severe cases, silicosis can be fatal. It is not reversible.
Doctors classify silicosis into types, depending upon the amount and duration of silica exposure. The most common form of silicosis, known as chronic silicosis, occurs after decades of overexposure to lower levels of silica. Accelerated silicosis involves larger amounts of silica and occurs from five to fifteen years after exposure. Acute silicosis is the result of short–term exposure to very large amounts of silica.
In all forms of silicosis, silica damages and scars the lungs, causing inflammation and the formation of nodules that are the mark of the disease. A diagnosis of silicosis can be confirmed by the patient’s work history, chest x–rays, and pulmonary function tests. Although silicosis is not curable, the patient can ease symptoms by using cough medications and bronchodilators. Tobacco smoke should be avoided since it can cause further lung damage.
Silica and Your Legal Rights
At job sites where silica exposure is a possibility, employers should reduce their employees’ exposure to the mineral by providing a good ventilation system and making dust masks and respirators available to workers. Unfortunately, some employers do not follow appropriate procedures. Also, some types of dust masks or respirators do not provide adequate protection against silica dust.
If you have been exposed to silica at your workplace and developed silicosis, Brayton Purcell LLP can help you sort out the legal issues. We will evaluate your potential case free of charge, answer your questions, and advise you of your legal rights and choices. You may contact us through this website or by calling 800-598-0314.