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Australia Silicosis

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Silicosis Scare Hits Australia, Calls for Bans

Posted on 10 February 2020 by cradmin

As of December 2019, confirmed cases of silicosis among countertop and construction workers rose to 260 across Australia, where countertops are known as benchtops, and some estimates have the cases at 350. The Daily Mail reports that Caesarstone was denied insurance coverage because of the silica content of its products, and some victims and lawmakers are calling for a ban of all quartz surfacing.

Because the cases have more than tripled over the last quarter of 2019 in Queensland, ABC News reports, silica dust is now more toxic than asbestos in Australia. According to Dr. Graeme Edwards, silica dust is five to six times more toxic than asbestos.

“Now that we’ve got bigger numbers, that figure is around 20 to 25 percent. So, between one in four and one in five people who’ve had extended exposure,” stated Edwards, speaking on the toxicity level. “It’s crudely of the order of five to six times more potent a problem.” Asbestos sits at 6 percent toxicity in Australia.

Even though Edwards believes silica is highly toxic, he does not support a total ban of materials including it because there is still insufficient evidence and, unlike asbestos, there are safe ways to handle silica. Laws are already in place to protect workers in Australia, but the problem is with enforcement.

“It is the failings of various parts of the system to apply the law that already exists,” said Edwards. “Every single case of silicosis is prima facie evidence of system failure. There was legislation already in existence to manage it but, clearly, it failed the workers of Australia.”

Braden Barnes, 34, is just one of those who has been newly diagnosed with silicosis in Australia, and he is outspoken in his support to ban products containing silica. His case of silicosis is so bad that he is no longer able to work after being in the business for more than a decade. In 2014, his illness was misdiagnosed, so he continued to work in the countertop fabrication industry.

“I kept going for a couple of years because we were starting to build a house, we just had a newborn,” said Barnes. “I know six of my friends that are being diagnosed. I know a few more that are in denial. They’ve built their life around the money they earn, so they don’t even want to get checked.”

One Australian law firm, Slater and Gordon, tells the Daily Mail that they have since a sharp spike in reports from countertop and construction workers that have now been diagnosed with silicosis.

“Under Australian law, manufacturers of products owe duties to consumers and end-users of these products to ensure that they are safe and that any risks they present are accompanied by appropriate warnings,” reads the company website.

Because of this sharp increase, the attorneys launched an investigation into the countertop fabrication industry last May. Shortly afterward, the filed a class-action lawsuit against major countertop fabricators.

“The point of the class action is to bring the manufacturers of the engineered stone to account for the very considerable injuries that the product is causing people,” stated Margaret Kent of Slater and Gordon.

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Silicosis Among Stone Fabricators More Widespread Than Previously Believed

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Silicosis Among Stone Fabricators More Widespread Than Previously Believed

Posted on 17 October 2019 by cradmin

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.

ISFA also has resources on crystalline silica and more starting at $88. In addition, help can be found through another association, the National Stone Institute.

For further information about silica, silicosis and the new OSHA standard, please refer to some of our previous articles, including the following:

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Latest OSHA Video on Controlling Silica

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Latest OSHA Video on Controlling Silica

Posted on 25 March 2019 by cradmin

At the beginning of 2019, OSHA published a new video titled “Protecting Workers from Silica Hazards in the Workplace.” While it is only 5 minutes long and focuses on general silica protection vs. specific protection for stone/quartz fabrication shops, it is a decent primer for beginning to get an understanding of the problem.
With the recent (March 2019) cases of silicosis found at a countertop facility in Texas, OSHA is sure to be focusing more on the silica issue, which means there will likely be an increase in inspections related to this issue. However, worker safety, of course, should always be a concern for fabricators.

More information about crystalline silica in the countertop industry can be found at OSHA’s website.

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Several Reports of Silicosis in Texas Countertop Shop

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Several Reports of Silicosis in Texas Countertop Shop

Posted on 18 March 2019 by cradmin

In March 2019, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) received a report of an apparent cluster of multiple cases of silicosis among workers associated with occupational silica dust exposures that occurred during the manufacture, finishing and installation of stone countertops. DSHS is currently investigating these cases. There are no reported silica exposures to consumers from countertops in their homes.

Silicosis is an incurable, disabling, and often-fatal lung disease caused by inhalation of very fine particles of crystalline silica dust over a long period of time, which primarily occurs in workplace settings.

Occupational silicosis among workers in the engineered stone countertop industry is a rising concern in the world. The first case associated with engineered stone countertop fabrication in the United States was reported in Texas in 2014. Workers may be repeatedly exposed to dangerous levels of respirable silica dust when grinding, cutting, routing, drilling, or polishing engineered stone, granite and other stone materials containing crystalline silica during the fabrication process.

The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 µg/m3, averaged over an 8-hour work day, for respirable crystalline silica exposure among workers in fabrication shops and other construction job sites (5,6).

To prevent occupational exposure to silica dust, guidelines require the following:

For employers:

  • Conduct air monitoring to identify the amount of silica dust workers are exposed to, and continue to monitor air levels to make sure the exposure level is below the PEL.
  • When possible, eliminate job tasks that can expose workers to silica dust above the PEL.
  • Reduce exposure by using dust control methods or engineering controls such as wet methods for cutting or grinding, local exhaust ventilation, wet sweeping, or high efficiency particulate (HEPA)-filtered vacuuming.
  • Use administrative controls and safe work practices such as a written exposure control plan and a designated competent person to implement it, and limit access to areas with exposure above the PEL.
  • Provide workers with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as respirators and washable clothing when exposure control does not sufficiently reduce the amount of airborne silica dust.
  • Train all employees at the worksite on the health effects of silica exposure, workplace tasks that can expose them to silica dust, and how to control or prevent exposures.
  • Offer medical screenings to all who may be exposed to silica dust as per OSHA standards (5,6). Keep records of workers’ exposure to silica and medical screening results.

For workers:

  • Participate in trainings on silica exposure control and prevention including use of PPE.
  • Follow procedures and protocols to safely work around silica and reduce or prevent exposures.
  • Report any possible silica exposure to the employer, supervisor, or health care provider.

More information about crystalline silica in the countertop industry can be found at OSHA’s website.

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MIA+BSI Adds Silicosis Training Resource to Natural Stone University

Posted on 04 August 2017 by cradmin

miabsi-natural-stone-universityMIA+BSI: The Natural Stone Institute has added a new silicosis training resource to the Natural Stone University. This resource, entitled “Silicosis: An Industry Guide to Awareness and Prevention,” is divided into three sections:
• What Is Silicosis?: An Industry Guide to Awareness and Prevention
• Air Quality Test Methods
• Safety Precautions for Workers

“This is an important addition to our library of online safety resources,” said Aaron Dahnke, MIA+BSI Education Manager. “This training tool serves as a review and opportunity to update the people who work in our industry about this preventable illness.”

Overexposure to respirable crystalline silica particles can lead to serious, sometimes fatal illnesses including silicosis, lung cancer, tuberculosis (in those with silicosis), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In addition, silica exposure has been linked to other illnesses including renal disease and other cancers. Silicosis is a progressive disease and there is no cure upon its onset. Minimizing your exposure to respirable crystalline silica is the key to prevention.

Shop owners who have implemented strict new housekeeping rules and controls have been able to achieve levels that are below the new OSHA Action Level (25 µg/m³). The effective date for OSHA’s new silica exposure standard for General Industry (fabricators) is June 23, 2018. The Construction Standard, covering workers in the field, becomes enforceable September 23, 2017.

To access this resource, visit www.naturalstoneinstitute.org/university

You may also be interested in this Health & Safety Watch article regarding silica exposure.

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OSHA Finalizes New Silica Rule Amid Concern

Posted on 25 March 2016 by cradmin

On March 24, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) finalized the revised federal rule for limiting the exposure of workers to crystalline silica, which is known to cause an array of medical conditions, including silicosis, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

OSHA believes the new rule will save more than 600 lives, prevent 900 cases of silicosis each year and provide a net annual savings of $7.7 billion. However, many individuals and organizations in the construction and building industries say putting more effort into enforcing the old rule would have gone further to protect the health of workers without increasing the cost of construction/renovation.

Provisions of the New Silica Standards

According to the OSHA Silica Web portal and the OSHA Fact Sheet Workers’ Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica: Final Rule Overview, the new rule is comprised of two separate standards: one for the construction industry and one for maritime and general industry. The four key provisions:

  1. The permissible exposure limit (PEL) for crystalline silica has been reduced from 250 micrograms per cubic meter to 50 micrograms per cubic meter in an eight-hour period.
  1. Employers are required to limit worker exposure to silica through engineering controls, personal protective equipment (PPE) and controlled access to areas with high concentrations. In addition, employers must develop a written exposure-control program, and train employees on the hazards of silica and how to limit exposure.
  1. Employers are required to monitor the health of workers with high exposure potential by providing regular medical examinations and information on lung health.
  1. The rule has some flexibility for OSHA to help employers, especially small businesses, comply with the rule and protect workers from silica exposure.

The new rule goes into effect on June 23 of this year (2016), but staggered schedules have been set with various industries to comply with the requirements.

  • Construction: One year – June 23, 2017
  • Maritime and General Industry: Two years – June 23, 2018
  • Hydraulic fracturing (fracking): Five years for engineering controls, two years for all other provisions

OSHA Defends New Rule

OSHA defends the new federal rule for silica exposure limits by stating that approximately 2.3 million workers in the United States are exposed to crystalline silica on the job and that the current PEL is more than 40 years old. According to OSHA, the old limit is based on research from the 1960s, and new evidence has emerged since that time to indicate the old limit does not adequately protect workers. In addition, the administration claims the technology to comply with the rule is readily available and affordable.

“We’ve known for over 40 years that it needed to be strengthened, and it has taken 40 years to strengthen it,” said Secretary of Labor Tom Perez. “Many people who are going to work right now and breathing unacceptable levels of silica dust are in for a brighter future. The science says we need to be at 50, so that’s what the final rule will say.”

“Silica is a killer, and employers need to take the necessary steps so that they can reduce exposure,” continued Perez. “And the good news is that those necessary steps are not going to break the bank. It’s real simple stuff. Get a vacuum. Get water. Those are the key elements of pretty simple compliance.”

Industries Respond

Several industry groups have opposed the new silica ruling since it was first proposed back in 2013, and the largest opponent is a partnership of 25 trade associations called the Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC), which includes the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the Marble Institute of America (MIA) and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).

Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO of the AGC, has expressed his dismay over the new rule speaking on behalf of his entire organization. “Instead of crafting new and innovative ways to get more firms to comply with the current silica standard, which we know would save even more workers each year, administration officials appear to have instead opted to set a new standard that is well beyond the capabilities of current air filtration and dust removal technologies,” stated Sandherr. “Wishing firms could meet this new but unattainable standard will undoubtedly deliver many positive headlines for the administration, but it will be all but impossible for most construction firms to comply with this new rule.”

“We will continue our exhaustive review of this new regulation, consult with our members and decide on a future course of action that will best serve the health and safety of millions of construction workers across the country,” Sandherr concluded.

The NAHB held back its resentment but echoed the sentiments of the AGC. “NAHB has long advocated the importance of the rule being both technologically and economically feasible,” said Ed Brady, chair of the NAHB. “While we’re still reviewing the final rule, we’re concerned that it may not adequately address these issues and take into consideration real-world application.”

Jeff Buczkiewicz, president of the Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA), is also concerned about the feasibility of the new OSHA rule. “At first glance, we have observed that a number of provisions that concerned us in the proposed rule have been left in the final rule. This makes us continue to question the final rule’s technological and economic feasibility for the construction industry,” said Buczkiewicz. “In addition, OSHA has added several new provisions not in the proposed rule that we have not had a chance to thoroughly review and consider the impacts. Once we complete our review, we will be able to be more specific about what was released today.”

The exception to the negative response to the new rule among the industry comes from the trade unions. The North America Building Trades Union (NABTU) issued the following response: “North America’s Building Trades Union is pleased OSHA has issued the final silica standard. Put simply, the OSHA silica standard will protect construction workers from getting sick or dying due to silica dust exposure.”

The AFL-CIO is also onboard with the new rule. “We applaud the Obama administration for issuing these lifesaving measures and commend Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels for their tremendous leadership and dedication to bring the silica rules to completion,” read the official AFL-CIO statement. “The labor movement has fought for these standards for decades. We will continue to fight to defend these rules from the certain industry attacks that will come so that workers are finally protected from this deadly dust.”

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Respiratory Protection Part 2: Countertop Fabrication and Silica Dust Exposure

Posted on 19 August 2015 by cradmin

silica-dust Last month, we took a look at general respiratory protection in the countertop fabrication industry, and this month, we expand on that topic by exploring silica dust exposure and silicosis. Silica dust is the number one airborne contaminant in countertop fabrication shops, and it may exist anywhere stone, quartz surfacing or concrete slabs are being cut.

Silica has recently become a hot topic among countertop fabricators since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a proposal to decrease the allowable limits for silica exposure. Although this proposed rule change has caused quite a stir in the industry and very few fabricators agree with it, the proposal has already had an impact by raising awareness of the issue.

Silicosis Cases Decline but Still Common

The problem with excessive exposure to silica dust is that it can accumulate in the lungs and cause a potentially fatal chronic disease known as silicosis. Although cases of silicosis have fallen and the mortality rate from the disease has decreased over the past 50 years, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that approximately 100 people die in the U.S. every year from complications associated with the disease, and from 2011 to 2013, 12 of those people were under 45 years of age.

In addition, 2015 marks the first time a countertop fabricator in the U.S. has been diagnosed with silicosis, joining the ranks of Italy, Spain and Israel. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the man was exposed to silica dust from quartz surfacing for 10 years. Quartz countertops are 70 to 90 percent crystalline silica, and with the material’s surge in popularity, excessive exposure must be addressed in fabrication shops. However, it is important to note that silica is also present in nearly all types of natural stone, including granite and soapstone, and concrete.

Protecting Employees and Ourselves

OSHA3768aCountertop fabricators can take several steps to control silica levels in their shops and limit exposure to workers. The first step in the process is monitor the air in order to determine just how much silica dust is present. This will not only help protect the health of anyone present but will also help you stay in compliance with federal and state regulations. If levels above what is permissible are found, employers are mandated to take corrective action to reduce worker exposure.

The methods that can be used to reduce silica exposure fall into three categories: engineering controls, work practices and personal protective equipment (PPE). Each of these categories should be considered part of a hierarchy. If engineering controls do not sufficiently lower silica levels, changes in work practices must be attempted, and if levels are still too high, employees in the area must be fit for and provided with appropriate PPE.

Engineering Controls

  • Employ water-spraying systems to keep dust from becoming airborne.
  • Use remote-controlled saws and other tools to keep people out of the exposure zones.
  • Modify handheld grinders to deliver water to the point of contact.
  • Replace dry grinders with wet-edge routers.
  • Use tools under a shroud and vacuum with a HEPA filter.
  • Install local exhaust ventilation (LEV) systems.
  • Use combinations of the above.

Work Practices

  • When cleaning, use HEPA vacuums or wet sweepers rather than dry sweepers or compressed air.
  • Replace filters frequently.
  • Increase flow on water systems.
  • Wet slabs before fabricating.

When cutting, grinding and polishing countertops onsite, control silica dust exposure by performing as much work as possible under controlled shop conditions, and use LEV systems when wet methods are impractical. In addition, try to use tools equipped with dust shrouds, and clean up all dust with a HEPA-filtered vacuum as soon as possible.

Respiratory Protection

hydfrac_hazalert_12When engineering controls and work practices have failed to lower silica dust levels, employers are required to provide respirator protection to employees, but this means much more than simply making PPE available. Employers are required to create a respiratory protection program that meets the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134). Such programs include the following requirements:

  • hydfrac_hazalert_11Selecting the proper respirators
  • Fit-testing employees for respirators
  • Completing medical evaluations for all employees required to wear respirators
  • Training employees how to properly use respirators
  • Observing that employees are using and maintaining respirators properly

When respirators are required to be worn in areas with high levels of silica dust, at minimum, the PPE must be a NIOSH-approved N95 respirator. When silica levels are higher than 10 times the limit, half-face respirators may not be used. Instead, you must use respirators that offer more protection, such as full-face respirators, which are effective in environments that are 50 times higher than the current federal exposure level. Another option is to purchase powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs), which are more comfortable and easier on the body than pressure-demand respirators are.

For Further Information

Further information on silica dust exposure and silicosis can be found in a variety of ways. A great deal of current information is available online, and you may also tap into other resources, including state and federal OSHA offices, which provide free consultation services for small-to-mid-sized businesses (SMBs). You can also contact trade organization, such as the Marble Institute of America (MIA), which has been recognized by OSHA for making comprehensive training resources available.

A few of the helpful materials you can access online are as follows:

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Silicosis: Incurable, but Preventable

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Silicosis: Incurable, but Preventable

Posted on 17 April 2015 by cradmin

With all of the attention the countertop industry continues to receive regarding silica exposure and the impending regulation changes,  we thought sharing this video produced by the Marble Institute of America (MIA) with the help of DuPont and Water Treatment Solutions, would be a good idea. “Silicosis: Incurable, but Preventable” contains excellent information on preventing this terrible ailment. However, it also recognizes that no single video can cover every given situation and that each particular circumstance should be assessed and precautions taken according to the variables present, with erring on the side of caution being the wisest path. We recognize that the countertop industry has done an excellent job of addressing this disease largely through the information sharing and efforts of organizations such as the MIA and we here at CountertopResource.com would like to recognize them for their efforts. However, we feel for those who have suffered needlessly through this terrible and preventable ailment, and urge you all to be always mindful in all situations, whatever your capacity in a facility or operation in which there is the risk of silicosis, and put safety at the forefront.

A Spanish version of the Silicosis video can be found here.

You might also be interested in this video on the hazards of silica exposure.

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