Silicosis – it may be the next asbestosis

Almost 2 million
U.S. workers are exposed to silica dust in industries and occupations,
including construction, sandblasting, and mining where most exposures take
place.  While the peninsula does not have
a lot of industry that increases the risk of exposure, it is worthwhile to look
past these large targets and understand that farming, ceramic work and shipyard
employment are smaller occupational areas that risk exposure to breathable
crystalline silica.  In fact, among the
common names for silicosis, “Grinder’s Disease” and “Potters Rot” reflect the
prevalence among concrete and ceramic workers.

The list of
materials containing crystalline silica is long and includes many materials
folks on the peninsula may be in contact with – granite, sand, gravel,
sandstone, blasting abrasive, concrete, concrete block and cement are just a
few of the entries on the list.  Pottery
and ceramic workers are at risk and that may even include art ceramicists and
potters.  Farm workers and in act anyone
working in dusty environments may have some exposure.  Soil, especially sandy soil, is likely to
contain crystalline silica. In shipyards, blasting abrasive is of real concern.

In most cases,
silicosis develops after years of exposure to silica. The disease is classified
for medical purposes as chronic, accelerated or acute and generally symptoms
include fatigue, shortness of breath (especially after activity), chest pain
and weight loss. A chest X-ray may determine lung damage.  If silicosis is diagnosed in one worker,
other workers should be tested and followed.

Why be
concerned?  Extensive exposure to
crystalline silica – usually 10-15 years — can lead to Silicosis, an
irreversible lung disease. About 300 American workers will die with silicosiseach year and the crystalline silica exposure is implicated in lung cancer,pulmonary tuberculosis, and airways diseases in general; the good news is that
silicosis is preventable with just a few precautions. 

If you are an
employer, you need to know that silicosis claims and lawsuits are becoming more
common. The more serious claims involve long-term health issues and there have
been reports of large damage awards. It is important to look for ways to avoid
having anyone contract silicosis and preventing crystalline silica exposure is
a combination of engineering controls and good work practices.  Use engineering controls like adequate
ventilation to reduce silica dust levels, and make sure they are properly
maintained. Minimize the dust in the air by removing dust with a water hose, or
vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate filter rather than blowing it clean
with compressed air.  You should also do
wet sweeping instead of dry sweeping to keep dust down.  Train yourself and employees in how to monitor
work situations and to recognize and report silica related problems.  Substitute less hazardous materials than
crystalline silica when abrasive blasting if it is possible to do so.

Wear, maintain,
and correctly use approved particulate respirators when engineering controls
alone are not adequate to reduce exposures below permissible levels. Beards and
mustaches interfere with the respirator seal to the face, making most
respirators ineffective. Use positive pressure respirators for dangerous work
like sandblasting and in general use a respirator any time you may be exposed
to dust.

If you work in,
or are responsible for, sites that may have exposure to crystalline silica be
sure to discuss solutions with your Washington insurance professional at Homer
Smith Insurance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *