Silicosis and Silica

Silica or silicon dioxide is a naturally-occurring chemical found in rock, soil, and sand. It is often found in many building and construction materials, making workers in different industries susceptible to exposure to silica in different forms. Workers may be exposed to silica dust, for example, when hammering, chipping, crushing, drilling, or hauling rocks with silica or other masonry products.

If silica and silica dust is inhaled, the particles can get into the air sacs in the lungs and may cause the chronic lung disease silicosis. Silicosis is a disease under pneumoconiosis which is a general term for any lung disease from the inhalation of dust particles. Workers in places where silica dust is common are more vulnerable to suffering this disease, and each year more than 250 US workers die of silicosis.

Silica dust exposure in the workplace is considered as dangerous to the human health by the World Health Organization, just like exposure to asbestos or smoking. Those exposed to silica dust have a greater risk of getting bronchitis, tuberculosis, and lung cancer.

What Is Silicosis?

When particles of crystalline silica are inhaled, it can cause a scarring and hardening of lung tissues or silicosis. This condition can cause permanent shortness of breath and can also make the person more vulnerable to contracting other respiratory conditions such as bronchitis, tuberculosis or lung cancer. There is no known cure for silicosis yet. Prevention is the only way to stop this disease.

There is a higher risk of contracting silicosis in industrial workplaces such as mining and sandblasting, but it can also be contracted by anyone who is routinely exposed to the dust, as well as because of the use of certain hobby or consumer goods.

There are three types of silicosis:

  • Acute Silicosis—Results from exposure to a large amount of silica in a short amount of time.
  • Chronic Silicosis—Occurs after exposure to an approximately constant amount of silica over extended periods of usually about 7 to 10 years. Workers in stonecutting, mining or other similar industries are most vulnerable to this type of silicosis.
  • Accelerated Silicosis—Results from exposure to smaller amounts of silica over a longer period of time, usually 15-20 years.

Early exposure to silica and silica dust is not easily detectable. Such symptoms may include irritation of the eyes, throat, and nose. Other possible early symptoms may be shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, and increased tiredness. However, some people may go on without symptoms for 10 to 20 years after exposure.

Silicosis will continue to progress even if the person is no longer exposed to silica or silica dust, once the disease has begun. The symptoms, such as coughing and shortness of breath, will intensify. Studies have also found that silica dust exposure can also cause the immune system response to elevate, resulting in autoimmune diseases such as scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and Sjogrens’ syndrome.

Silica Exposure – Legal Remedies

If you or your loved ones are experiencing health problems that may be associated with exposure to silica, there is a chance for you to get legal compensation. Depending on the facts of your case, there are applicable legal theories and different parties that may be potentially responsible.

The following are some examples where a case is potentially successful.

  • If employers failed to warn you of any health hazard related to silica dust exposure on the job, or if they failed to apply adequate safety measures to protect your health, your employer may be held liable for your health problems and injuries.
  • If a product such as blasting sand is found to be unreasonably unsafe or did not meet the minimum health and safety standards, the suppliers and manufacturers may be held liable.
  • If machinery used in sandblasting was manufactured in such a way that makes workers and operators more exposed to unreasonable amounts of silica dust, the manufacturer of the equipment may be held legally responsible.
  • If safety equipment such as dust masks and respirators are defective or have not functioned properly, the manufacturer of the safety equipment may be held liable.

The abovementioned examples are the most common but do not limit the potential liability of certain parties. An experienced personal injury lawyer may provide you with more information and guidance to protect your rights and to help you find who is potentially liable for your injuries.

Silicosis & Silica – Getting Legal Help

If you or your loved ones have been exposed to silica or silica dust and begin experiencing symptoms of silicosis, consult with a medical care provider as soon as possible. You may also want to consult with a lawyer to help you in legal matters to protect your rights and to get the proper legal remedy for the injuries you have suffered.

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