Just months ago, our firm wrote about the dangers of crystalline silica dust in the workplace. Silica dust is particularly hazardous to kitchen countertop installers, who face disproportionately high rates of serious – and sometimes incurable – respiratory disorders. In response to the recent influx in silica dust-related illnesses and deaths, the Department of Labor (DOL) is launching a new safety initiative in hopes of beginning to address the issue.
Despite its new safety initiative, the DOL has said it will not be creating a program specifically tailored for investigating crystalline silica hazards in the kitchen countertop industry. Silica is a naturally occurring compound that appears in quartz, a mineral used frequently by countertop manufacturers. It has also been linked to numerous cases of deadly or irreversible lung injury. Unsurprisingly, most of the cases occur among individuals who work directly with the stone.
OSHA estimates that 2.3 million workers are exposed to crystalline silica in the workplace. Crystalline silica is present in many materials such as stone, mortar, concrete, and sand. It is also used to create numerous products, like the artificial stone used to produce certain kitchen countertops, glass, ceramics, and brick. When silica is respirable – or possible to inhale because of how small the particles are – the potential health risks are high.
Inhaling respirable silica is known to cause multiple diseases, including:
Silicosis is an incurable lung disease that can lead to disability or death. Although there is no cure, the disease can still be managed. According to a recent Australian study, as many as 10% of all kitchen countertop workers have the disease. Some symptoms of silicosis to look out for include weight loss, a dry cough that does not go away, and shortness of breath – especially during or after physical activity. Individuals who work around respirable silica who experience symptoms should make an appointment directly with their doctors.
The DOL says it intends to implement a National Emphasis Program, or NEP, for silica. A major part of the program entails having the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) conduct yearly inspections at worksites across different industries. Unfortunately, the NEP only requires that 2% of these annual inspections be conducted at workplaces with an elevated risk of silica exposure, like the kitchen countertop industry. Critics have called the DOL’s plan a “woefully inadequate response” to the serious safety and health issues currently plaguing kitchen countertop workers.
Lawmakers are stepping up and calling on OSHA, which administers and enforces workplace safety and health laws in conjunction with the Department of Labor, to address the dangers of respirable silica in the kitchen countertop industry. Along with lawmakers, the American Public Health Association (APHA) has also requested that the administration increase its enforcement and outreach efforts in the countertop industry, prioritizing better health outcomes for millions of workers.
So far, OSHA has not responded to the lawmakers and APHA’s requests, but we will continue to keep our readers updated as the story develops. If you were exposed to crystalline silica dust in your workplace and became ill as a result, you may want to consider filing a workers’ compensation claim. Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance providing wage replacement and medical benefits to workers injured due to their employer’s negligence. To learn more, contact a representative at our firm directly.
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