Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited a company in the Midwest for failing to assess worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust, failing to give workers appropriate eye protection and improper ladder caging. This hazard can affect workers at iron foundries in Massachusetts. The danger of inhaling silica particles is developing a disabling respiratory disease like silicosis.
OSHA started inspecting last fall and assessed proposed penalties of $50,600. Back in 2012, an inspection at a different plant for the same company resulted in 28 violations and more than $133,000 in penalties.
OSHA has recently proposed a new silica standard that would be more protective of workers. It believes this will save 700 lives every year and prevent 1600 new silicosis cases. Silicosis occurs naturally and is the main part of sand.
Workers exposed to silica dust include those in glass manufacturing, mining, stone cutting, quarrying, and abrasives manufacturing. If you work in any of these fields, you may be at risk. Your employer has a duty to follow OSHA guidelines regarding silica, including providing you with appropriate protective equipment. If you work in any of these industries and notice symptoms of silicosis such as a cough, shortness of breath or weight loss, you should seek medical attention.
There are three possible kinds of silicosis: simple chronic silicosis, accelerated silicosis, and acute silicosis. Simple chronic silicosis is usually the result of two or more decades of exposure to small amounts of silica dust. The dust causes an inflammation response which leads to lungs and chest lymph nodes swelling. Accelerated silicosis happens after you are exposed to large amounts of silica over a shorter period of 5-15 years. Acute silicosis happens when the lungs become inflamed due to exposure to huge amounts of silica in a shot period. The symptoms include low blood oxygen levels and fluid filled lungs.
Progessive massive fibrosis can happen with either simple or accelerated silicosis. Either way it causes scarring in the lungs that destroys their structure.
If you see a health care provider about possible silicosis he or she will take a medical history, do a medical exam and possibly conduct tests such as a chest x-ray and CT scan, pulmonary function tests, purified protein derivative (PPD) skin test for tuberculosis and serologic tests. You should be aware that there is no specific treatment for silicosis and the main thing is to remove the source of silica exposure and any other lung irritant such as smoking. Usually antibiotics are prescribed for infections and the doctor may advise cough medicine, oxygen, and bronchodilators.
People with silicosis are at higher risk of developing tuberculosis, which interferes with the body’s immune response to bacteria. Skin tests to check for TB exposure are important if you are diagnosed with silicosis. If the silicosis is very severe, a doctor may advise you to get a lung transplant. Regardless of the treatment regimen, if you were exposed to silica dust at work and developed silicosis or cancer, it is important to consult with an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney.
If you are hurt at work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. An experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney can evaluate whether you have a sound claim and fight to make sure that your employer and its insurer follow the rules. Contact us by calling 800-367-0871 or using our online contact form.More Blog PostsSubmitting Additional Testimony in Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation, March 12, 2013