Silica and Silicosis

Federal safety regulators have warned that construction workers, natural gas workers, and other employees may be at risk of developing silicosis, lung cancer, or other illnesses caused by exposure to airborne silica sand. Individuals who live near fracking sites or who are exposed to silica dust secondhand in the workplace may also be at risk due to the hazardous dust that is created at these sites.

Silicosis is caused by scarring in the lungs that results from inhaling fine particles of silica dust that can become airborne during the fracking process or when building materials are cut or ground at construction jobsites. Since 1968, more than 14,000 workers in the U.S. have died as a result of silicosis caused by workplace silica exposure. Despite improved safety measures, hundreds of workers continue to die from this disease every year.

Symptoms of silicosis include shortness of breath, fatigue, loss of appetite, chest pain, coughing, and respiratory failure, which may eventually lead to death. Other diseases that have been linked to silica exposure include lung cancer, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), tuberculosis, scleroderma, and renal disease.

Silica Exposure from Construction Site Materials

Silica is found in many materials that are commonly found on construction sites for building homes, commercial buildings, and other structures. Granite—which is frequently found in home countertops and other uses—is about 70% silica.

Silica and SilicosisOther common building materials that contain silica include:

  • Naturally-occurring materials, such as granite, sand, slate
  • Man-made materials, such as asphalt, concrete, and terrazzo
  • Building components, such as block, brick, ceramic tile, pavers, roof tiles, and siding
  • Grout, joint compound, mortar, and other joining materials

When building materials that contain silica are cut or ground by workers, it can create airborne silica particles that can be harmful if inhaled by workers.

Over time, exposure to airborne silica dust can lead to scarring in the lungs, which can develop into silicosis or other respiratory diseases.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have mandated a number of safety procedures in order to protect construction workers from silica exposure caused by cutting or grinding building materials. These safety measures include wetting down materials that may create airborne silica, using caution when cleaning silica dust in order to limit additional airborne particles, and the use of respirators or other safety equipment in cases where dust levels are too high.

Despite these safety measures, many building and construction workers are still at risk of being diagnosed with silicosis as a result of workplace exposure to airborne silica dust. Many workers are not properly trained about how to safely work with silica materials, or are not given proper safety equipment to limit their exposure levels. Some employers fail to follow appropriate safety measures—including preventing their workers from dry cutting or dry grinding materials that contain silica—or providing respirators and other safety equipment that can decrease the risk of silica exposure.

Fracking Linked to Silicosis and Other Serious Respiratory Illnesses

Hydraulic fracturing—or “fracking”—is a drilling technique that is used to extract natural gas or oil from rock deep below the earth’s surface. After a well is drilled, large quantities of water, sand, and chemicals are pumped into the well, causing cracks to form in the rock and releasing the oil or gas that is trapped inside. The sand that is pumped down the well during the fracking process holds these cracks open, allowing the oil or natural gas deposits to flow to the surface.

Although fracking has allowed drilling companies to access oil and gas deposits that were previously inaccessible to drilling, this technique also carries a number of serious health hazards for the public and workers at fracking sites. In addition to the well-publicized risks of groundwater contamination from the chemicals contained in fracking fluids, workers and members of the public who inhale the dust created at fracking sites may be at risk of a number of respiratory illnesses.

As the silica sand that is used in the fracking process is passed from machine to machine, it can become airborne, increasing the risk that it may be inhaled by workers. Although the health hazards of inhaling silica sand are well-known, OSHA and NIOSH say that fracking workers are frequently not provided with respiratory equipment and other safety gear that is strong enough to protect them from the health hazards of breathing in silica. Because of the high levels of silica dust to which they are exposed on the job, some fracking workers have been diagnosed with silicosis in as little as five years after being exposed—significantly faster than the 20 years it usually takes before symptoms appear.

Injured by Silica Exposure? You Have Legal Rights!

The U.S. government has passed numerous safety regulations that require employers to provide workers with a safe working environment. These laws also require employers to provide workers with equipment and training that are necessary to limit the dangers of silica exposure.

When employers fail in their duty to follow safety regulations regarding airborne silica, workers who have been exposed to silica dust created at building sites or during the fracking process may be eligible to file a lawsuit and seek compensation for their injuries. Many lawsuits have already been filed allege that workers have not been provided with adequate safety equipment to protect them from the health effects of silica sand exposure in the workplace.

The law firm of Heygood, Orr & Pearson was established with the belief that everyone—including workers who are hurt on the job and victims of dangerous medical or commercial products— should be able to rely on the advice of experienced legal counsel to help them with their case. Our attorneys have the training and trial experience to handle personal injury cases involving workplace exposure to silica or other injuries from start to finish.

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with silicosis or other illnesses as a result of exposure to airborne silica sand, you may wish to speak with a lawyer to learn more about whether you may qualify to file a lawsuit. For a free legal consultation about your case, contact the attorneys at Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following this link to our free case evaluation form on this website.