Workers Getting Sick and Dying From Materials Used to Make Kitchen Countertops
October 15, 2019
An employee with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) fears that 18 of the most recent cases of respiratory illnesses – along with two fatalities – in individuals working with a type of stone used in the construction of kitchen countertops is merely “the tip of the iceberg”. The culprit, an “engineered” or artificial stone, has been linked to even more cases of irreversible and deadly lung injury in workers, but its popularity continues to increase.
Silica is a compound that naturally occurs in quartz (which countertop manufacturers then embed in their artificial stone products.) Workers who aid in the creation of countertops made out of engineered stone inhale large amounts of silica dust, which is notorious for inflicting severe and catastrophic lung damage. Although employers and manufacturers know that the dust from cutting artificial stone (and granite countertops) can cause irreversible injury, workers continue to be needlessly exposed to unnecessary risks.
The Many Dangers of Silica
Between 2010 and 2018, imports of engineered stone grew by a whopping 800%. The reason? According to manufacturers artificial stone is less likely to crack and stain, so it is popular among consumers. Engineered stone is made up of almost all silica: typically it contains more than 90%. Marble, on the other hand, usually contains no more than 10%.
According to the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR), a leading source on worker safety and health, inhaling crystalline silica particles results in a variety of different – and potentially deadly – lung diseases. One example is silicosis, a long-term respiratory disease. There are three types of silicosis:
- Acute silicosis: this type of silicosis happens after someone is exposed to large, highly concentrated amounts of silica dust. Symptoms of acute silicosis develop within weeks of initial exposure to as long as four or five years afterwards,
- Chronic silicosis, which typically develops after 10 or more years of exposure to silica at lower concentrations, and:
- Accelerated silicosis. Accelerated silicosis usually presents after 5 to 10 years of exposure to high concentrations of silica dust.
Symptoms of silicosis can vary, but some of the most common include shortness of breath (especially during or after physical activity), weight loss, and a dry cough that does not go away. If you work around engineered stone or granite countertops and are experiencing any symptoms related to silicosis, please make an appointment with a medical professional. Although there is no known cure for silicosis, there are many ways to manage the disease – and diagnosing it as early as possible always helps.
Exposure to silica dust can also cause COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. COPD is one of the leading causes of death in the United States (on average there are more than 145,000 fatalities every year). Symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease include:
- Frequent coughing;
- Sputum production;
- Wheezing or noisy breathing;
- Tightness in the chest;
- Frequent lung infections;
- Shortness of breath that gets worse, and:
- Change in appetite and/or weight loss
Workers Safety and Health: Tips for Preventing Unsafe Exposure to Silica Dust
The recent flare up of silicosis cases among workers makes it clear that far too many employers fail to comply with federal safety standards (as per the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA) and are not providing safe and healthful workplaces. There are preventive measures employers and employees can take to guard against dangerous rates of silica exposure, such as:
- Maintaining proper ventilation and water spray systems in confined workspaces. When these systems are not enough, employers must provide respirators designed to guard specifically against crystalline silica;
- Remembering that silica dust dangers are present even when you cannot see it;
- Workers should be sure to take advantage of health and lung screenings provided by their employers, and:
- Always showering and changing into clean clothing in order to avoid contamination of your home and/or vehicle;
When a worker is injured because his or her employer violated safety and health standards, talking to an attorney about filing a workers’ compensation claim can help. Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that provides medical benefits and wages for time lost from work for injured individuals. To learn more about how to file a workers’ compensation claim after an injury or illness, please contact a representative at our firm who can help.
Allentown Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP Represent Individuals Injured at Work
If you were injured at work, please contact our Allentown workers’ compensation attorneys. Galfand Berger has offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.