We often see them in residential homes, businesses, and restaurants across Ohio. Quartz countertops add an alluring aesthetic to kitchens and bathrooms.
Developing these materials, however, comes with a cost. The workers who manufacture countertops are at risk of developing silicosis, a lung disease caused by exposure to silica dust.
According to Occupational Health & Safety, doctors have identified at least 18 countertop workers with silicosis across the United States. Cases are likely underreported and may continue to rise, however.
First case of silicosis among countertop cutters identified
One worker mention in the article has been cutting and polishing countertops since 2000. The materials he regularly handled were "bits of quartz bound together by a resin," which is used to make the most popular countertops in kitchens and bathrooms — Silestone. The silica dust emitted from Silestone, however, is making workers sick. Some workers have even reportedly died from silicosis, which is irreversible.
"Dry cutting" was the original approach to manufacturing countertops. When the cutting is done without water sprayed on the stone, silica dust flies in the air. Many employers in the countertop industry, however, have changed their approach to cutting in recent years.
“We see dust everywhere. Even on the floor, in our hair, in all our bodies, I mean everywhere,” said the worker.
While his employer often warned him about potential injuries caused by cutting, the danger of breathing in silica dust was never considered. Now, the damage to his lungs is so severe that he's required to be put on oxygen for roughly six hours per day and will likely need a lung transplant. The worker was the first countertop cutter identified with silicosis.
What is silicosis?
According to the American Lung Association, silicosis is a lung disease specifically caused by inhaling silica dust, which is found in sand, some rocks, and quartz. Those who work in construction, mining, glass manufacturing, and foundry work are the most at risk of breathing in silica dust. The harmful effects of silica dust can develop over time and can lead to scarring in the lungs.
The three types of silicosis include:
- Acute silicosis: Develops within weeks or years of inhaling silica dust and may include coughing, weight loss, and fatigue.
- Chronic silicosis: Can take about 10-30 years to develop after exposure and primarily damages the upper lungs.
- Accelerated silicosis: Usually takes about 10 years to develop due to high-level exposure.
Silicosis can't be cured — it can only be prevented. It can also lead to lung cancer, tuberculosis, chronic bronchitis and progressive massive fibrosis. More than 100 people die across the United States each year due to silicosis.
Symptoms of silicosis include:
- Chronic coughing
- Weight loss
- Sharp chest pains
- Shortness of breath
Do I qualify for workers' compensation if I developed silicosis on the job?
If you have developed silicosis due to the nature of your job, you may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits. With a serious lung condition such as silicosis, you may never be able to perform your job duties the same way again. Your medical care may be costly. Making ends meet while you're unable to work may be difficult.
Ohio workers' compensation benefits cover both your medical bills and lost wages. The attorneys at Hochman & Plunkett Co., L.P.A. can help you navigate the legal process and maximize your chances of receiving benefits. Contact us online to get started.