At the end of September, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report showing that stone fabricators suffering from silicosis are more numerous than has previously been believed. A total of 18 cases of silicosis, including two fatalities have now been reported across four states: California, Colorado, Texas and Washington. In addition, fabrication associations and related organizations have issued warnings and have made available several resources to aid in the prevention of silicosis among workers.
Silicosis is a disabling, incurable lung disease that can be fatal, and it is caused by respirating crystalline silica, such as that found in engineered stone and other stone products. International incidents of silicosis in countertop fabricators were first reported several years ago, but only one case in the U.S. was reported at the time. All stone fabrication workers are at risk of contracting this disease, and the CDC claims that “additional efforts are needed to reduce exposures and improve disease surveillance.”
Silicosis is a preventable disease. When exposure controls, such as water feeds, local exhaust ventilation and respiratory protection, are used, exposure limits can fall well within OSHA standards. However, many small-scale shops do not implement these measures adequately because of limited expertise, awareness and investment in control technologies.
Soon after the report from the CDC was released, National Public Radio (NPR) did an expose on silicosis claiming that “workers are falling ill, even dying, after making kitchen countertops.” And since then, the International Surface Fabricators (ISFA) made silicosis its leading news story in its latest newsletter. Before the publication of the newsletter, however, ISFA put out its own information about complying with OSHAs new crystalline silica rule.
For further information about silica, silicosis and the new OSHA standard, please refer to some of our previous articles, including the following: