The Silica Problem

"Silicosis" refers to a lung disease that is triggered by long-term, inhalation of silica particles. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that nearly two million American workers are vulnerable to contracting the disease and that the disease accounts for several hundred deaths per year.

Sources of Exposure

Persons in the construction industry are particularly at risk. The risk of silica particle exposure is greatest in jobs involving abrasive blasting, mixing/making concrete (or brick) and drilling masonry material. Other areas of concern (again according to OSHA) include the following:

  • any job using abrasive blasting for cleaning, smoothing or etching
  • asphalt pavement manufacturing
  • ceramics (& china) manufacturing
  • demolition work
  • tool and die industry
  • mining/tunneling
  • road construction
  • shipbuilding
  • steel and foundry industries

A new source that has been identified for silicosis exposure is hydraulic fracturing (fracking) activities, which produces hazardous airborne particulates.

Disease Symptoms

Generally, silicosis develops only after years of exposure to Crystalline Silica. The levels of the disease may either be Chronic, Accelerated or Acute. Besides silicosis, silica exposure may also contribute to the development of other health problems including tuberculosis, bronchitis and lung cancer.

Symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath (particularly after a strenuous activity), and chest pain and weight loss. A chest X-ray may determine lung damage. In some cases, silicosis may be fatal.

Silica Liability

A large number of U.S. government regulations exist with regard to employers having to provide a safe work environment, such as the use of proper equipment and training that reduces health exposures. Naturally, when employers are negligent in meeting safety requirements, workers may suffer.

Employers may be sued and found legally liable for the costs related to treating injured workers. Lawsuits typically involve a class action basis since allegations of unsafe working conditions related to silica exposure often affects a large number of employees.

While, in the past, the number of lawsuits spiked amid claims of fraud, it is still common to see the filings of legitimate claims for damages.

Preventing Silicosis

Silicosis claims are often very costly, involving long-term health issues. It is important to look for ways to avoid having anyone contract silicosis. Try to apply precautions such as the following:

  • Avoid use of compressed air cleaning
  • If possible, substitute other materials for silica when performing abrasive blasting
  • Use proper respirators with correct seals
  • Do not permit eating, drinking or smoking near work areas that generate silica particles
  • Use proper ventilation to clear work areas of particles
  • Make showers available to workers, along with either disposable or washable work clothes.

Note: Clothing should first be vacuumed before it is removed

  • Provide training to employees in how to monitor work situations and in recognizing (and reporting) silica related problems
  • Wash hands and face before eating/drinking
  • Use "wet" sweeping to clear dust from work areas

There are other methods to help fight this problem. If your operations include exposure to this health hazard, be sure to discuss solutions with insurance professional.


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