Silica, the mineral compound silicon dioxide, is also known as crystalline silica. Occupational exposure can cause silicosis, the scarring of lungs when silica particles are breathed in. Exposure poses a risk for workers including machine operators, sandblasters and miners. Silicosis symptoms include shortness of breath during exercise, fever, fatigue and appetite loss. Sometimes lips or earlobes turn blue. Acute silicosis, brought on by breathing in large amounts of silica, can develop within weeks or after as long as five years. Moderate exposure causes accelerated silicosis within five to ten years. Mild exposure can bring on chronic silicosis ten years after exposure. Silicosis, which is 100 percent preventable, makes people vulnerable to infection and diseases like lung cancer and tuberculosis.
1.7 Million Exposed To Silica
Silicosis. Lung cancer. Tuberculosis. Renal disease. Autoimmune disorders. It may sound like a litany of unfair and terrifying illnesses, but it’s worse – it’s a list of the potential side effects of silica exposure in the workplace. And with 1.7 million workers facing industrial silica exposure in a number of professions, it’s of growing concern to doctors and attorneys.
What Is Silica, Anyway?
More than just a benign dust, silica is actually the world’s second most common mineral. Present in mineral ore, sand, and other rocks, silica comes in crystalline form and can be easily inhaled and breathed through the lungs. The presence of silica in inhalable dust poses the biggest threat to workers, who experience the formation of scar tissue in the lungs from prolonged silica exposure. Silica can be found at many job sites, including:
• ceramics and pottery factories
• glass factories
• soap and detergent plants
• construction sites, especially those engaged in sandblasting, drilling and/or the use of jackhammers
• railroads and ship yards
• stone work sites
Silicosis – Industrial Killer
Silicosis kills more than 250 workers a year, but the disease is 100 percent preventable with the proper safety measures. The disease is especially dangerous because it takes so long to manifest – up to 20 years in some workers. Silicosis is a lung disease, so symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pains, fever, loss of appetite, and a severe cough. In addition, the presence of silica in the lungs often causes an autoimmune disorder, leaving workers more vulnerable to other lung ailments such as pneumonia and tuberculosis. A thorough medical examination, including chest X-ray, lung capacity testing and other modalities, is needed for a complete silicosis diagnosis.
The three varieties of silicosis include chronic silicosis (usually after a decade or more of exposure to silica dust), acute silicosis (with high exposures; may develop anywhere from weeks to five years after exposure), and accelerated silicosis (developing over five to ten years). The severity of silicosis in a given worker depends on the level and repetition of the occupational exposure.
What Is Being Done?
OSHA and MSHA rules do apply to silica exposure at work sites. OSHA has set an exposure limit that specifies the maximum amount of permissible silica exposure during an eight-hour shift. In addition, OSHA and MSHA both require employers to provide appropriate measures to prevent silica exposures. These include, but are not limited to, proper record keeping, providing respiratory protection devices to workers, and posting appropriate warnings to workers who may be exposed to silica dust in their jobs. It is important for workers who work in dusty conditions to take the proper precautions against silicosis and other silica-related occupational diseases.
If you are suffering from a work-related illness from silica exposure, seek the proper medical attention immediately. Consult with an experienced silica attorney to determine whether you have a case. You may be eligible to recover monetary compensation and other damages in relation to the effects of industrial silica exposure.
Given Silica Dangers, Employer Compliance is a Must
Given what we know about the toxic, even fatal, effects of silica exposure in the workplace, it is more vital than ever for employers to comply with local, state, and federal laws governing silica exposure. The crystalline toxin, which causes such fatal diseases as silicosis, pneumonia and even tuberculosis, is extremely dangerous – but with the proper safety measures, silicosis and other occupational diseases related to silica exposure are entirely preventable.
What Should Employers Do?
Compliance with OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration) regulations is absolutely vital for employers. Both OSHA and MHSA have established guidelines for the safe amount of silica that workers may be exposed to in any given shift. However, given broad medical evidence for the dangers of silica exposure to workers, mere compliance is no longer enough for employers. Employers must be prepared to shoulder the burden of true silica precautions that protect their workers and minimize the chance of costly and lengthy silica litigation. For example, employers should be prepared to provide disposable or washable work garments and the proper washing facilities so that workers do not take toxic silica dust home with them. They should participate in surveillance and air monitoring programs to assess and evaluate the amount of silica dust workers are being exposed to. And they should provide the best possible respiratory protection for workers who will be exposed to toxic silica dust in the normal course of business.
Negligence and Silica Law Suits
Unfortunately, silicosis has a long incubation period and may not show up in exposed workers until years, even decades, after original exposure. Silica litigation places the burden of proof on employers who need to prove that they were not negligent in their silica exposure. If employers fail to prove that they provided the best possible protection against silica exposure or are found to have failed to fully follow health and safety regulations, they are responsible for damages and compensation to affected workers.
What To Expect In Silica Litigation
You’ve received medical attention for your silica-related illness. You’ve consulted with an experienced silica attorney who has verified that you could be eligible for compensation and damages for your occupational silica exposure. What does a silica litigation entail?
Expect the litigation process to be long and often exhausting. As a silica litigant, you will be required to disclose often sensitive medical information in the name of the lengthy discovery process. Be ready to undergo an Independent Medical Examination (IME) in which an independent doctor diagnoses your silica-related illness and evaluates your medical history. In addition, the discovery process may uncover your employment and other records. If your case does not settle, it will prepare for jury trial. Your attorney may hire an expert witness or two with experience in silica exposure and other occupational hazards. These experts will provide detailed testimony and reports for trial. In addition, your attorney may stage a mock trial or invest significant funds in exhibit and technological preparation for trial day. These measures will ensure that your testimony is both convincing and compelling to a jury of your peers. If your silica law suit is found in your favor, you may be eligible for monetary compensation including but not limited to attorney’s fees, lost wages, pain and suffering, and future medical care.