Thousands of cabinet workers in the U.S. may be at risk of injury from inhaling silica dust; artificial stone containing the mineral silica used to make kitchen and bath countertops has been linked to deaths and irreversible lung injury in workers that manufacture, sell and install countertops for a living.
Dust from cutting slabs of natural and engineered stone is inhaled into the lungs of workers who then may develop silicosis, a progressive lung disease with limited treatment options. Unfortunately, stone workers of all ages are at risk – even those in their 30s have succumbed to silicosis disease.
Exposure to silica dust among cabinet workers has risen with the popularity of engineered stone particularly. Less prone to cracking or staining than natural stone such as granite or marble, engineered stone countertops has become the top choice among consumers. However, engineered stone typically contains far more silica than its natural counterparts – 90 percent silica compared to just 10 percent in marble and less than 50 percent in granite.
Of course, unsafe handling of many different materials can lead to dust related diseases so the fabrication and installation of engineered stone comes with recommended practices such as wearing personal protective devices or wet cutting to decrease dust inhalation. However by all accounts, the dust is everywhere. Even workers who come in to sweep after the cutting is done are exposed to silica hanging in the air let alone workers who are not trained or provided the protective equipment who work with it all day.
As more workers are diagnosed with the disease, alarm has spread. In 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a hazard alert warning significant exposure risk for workers who manufacture stone countertops. In 2016, OSHA went further by setting a limit on how much silica could be in the air thereby cutting the permissible exposure limit in half.
Unfortunately, regulatory oversight does not always translate into action and some manufacturers of stone countertops are still not doing a good job of protecting workers from harm. Some are still operating without the benefit of vacuum filtration systems, wet cutting techniques, effective cleaning or regular testing – all of which puts workers at risk.
The problem among stone cabinet workers is believed to be widespread and unfolding. Healthcare workers familiar with the phenomena believe they are just seeing the tip of the iceberg with researchers commenting that it is a gross understatement to suggest that many more we cases of silicosis have yet to be identified. Unfortunately many more families will likely be effected by the scourge of silicosis disease, a highly preventable illness if industry leaders act to protect workers.
Have You Suffered Work Related Silicosis Disease or a Lung Injury?
If you or a family member has been diagnosed with work related silicosis disease or lung injury, contact the workers’ compensation benefits and personal injury attorneys of McDonald, Woodward & Carlson PC for immediate assistance today.