The Asbestos & Silica Connection
Asbestos has been a deadly word in various industries since 1929, when the first lawsuit was filed.
Silica, like asbestos, is dangerous when inhaled.
Both of these exposures occur when workers cut, grind, crush, or drill materials containing the dangerous substances creating very small dust particles. Invisible to the eye, workers can become unknowingly exposed until severe health issues occur months, or even years later.
With OSHA’s new silica rule in effect for construction, maritime, general industry, and soon for hydraulic fracturing, the general public is becoming more aware of the connection between silica exposure and lung diseases, much like it did in the late 1970s with asbestos.
As silica, which is quite literally everywhere, climbs to the top of many employers’ agendas, it might be fair to consider it as the modern-era asbestos.
All Too Familiar
Billions of dollars have been awarded in mesothelioma cases in the past four decades and more than 100 companies have filed for bankruptcy. When it comes to silica, we’re becoming familiar with the terms silicosis and COPD.
Both diseases, like mesothelioma and asbestos, cause severe and often lethal lung damage. Silicosis is brought upon by inhaling even trace amounts of silica particles.
Over time, these silica particles scar the lung tissue, leading to difficulty breathing. Asbestosis has an eerily similar effect, as they are both forms of lung fibrosis.
There are three types of silicosis to be aware of:
- Acute silicosis: Occurs within a few weeks or years of exposure and causes coughing, weight loss, and fatigue.
- Chronic silicosis: Occurs when workers experience low, yet constant exposure to the hazardous material. Lung scarring can appear 10 to 30 years after exposure.
- Accelerated silicosis: Occurs within 10 years of constant, high exposure to silica.
OSHA estimates that between 1,000 and 1,500 people die each year due to silica exposure.
Already, there has been an abundance of silica-related lawsuits and deaths. In 2009, a former sandblaster was awarded $7.9 million against his employer in Mississippi after contracting silicosis.
For years, companies looked for ways to hide the dangers of asbestos because of its prevalence throughout industry. Those decisions inevitably came back to haunt them mightily.
In recent months, all too many employers have been looking for ways around silica testing and employee education requirements. Therefore, it’s highly conceivable that silicosis lawsuits will run parallel with those brought about by mesothelioma.
If you think silica testing is too expensive to be worthwhile, then you might want to rethink your stance and use asbestos as a reference.
It’s Up to You
As employers know, OSHA released a new rule on silica in 2017 that reduced the permissible exposure limit and mandated engineering controls to reduce worker exposure. OSHA believes that these new restrictions will help save thousands of lives, and keep silica from truly becoming the next asbestos.
The responsibility is on employers to make sure they remain in compliance and keep their workers healthy. The new silica rule mandates that workers must undergo a series of medical surveillance tests.
OSHA is taking these rules seriously with fines reaching $13,000 per serious, other-than-serious, or posting requirements violation, and upwards of $129,000 per willful or repeated violation.
Our clients have chosen Worksite Medical because of our ability to help them keep track of their health and safety programs. We are able to do everything on-site in one visit.
Because our mobile medical units have all the resources of a lab, we are able to pair your silica testing with other required medical tests including audiometric testing, DOT physicals, and respirator fit testing. You can view all of our services online.
Give us a call to schedule a visit today, or complete the form below, and get peace of mind that you are compliant with all of OSHA’s health regulations.