An emerging hazard: Silicosis from cutting engineered countertops

Stone countertops have become a status symbol throughout the U.S. With this boom in demand for custom counters made from a variety of stones as well as from engineered stone materials looms a potential explosion of deadly silicosis in the lungs of the workers who cut the countertops.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, when workers cut, grind, polish or drill counters made from these materials, tiny crystalline silica dust particles break off and drift into the surrounding air, where workers can breathe them in.

If they reach the lungs, silica particles may cause silicosis, an irreversible, progressive illness characterized by lung scarring. Symptoms and consequences can include:

  • Coughing
  • Labored breathing, shortness of breath and increased breathing rates
  • Fevers
  • Sharp chest pain
  • Phlegm
  • Wheezing
  • Swelling of legs
  • Blue lips
  • Fatigue
  • Lung cancer
  • Kidney disease
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD
  • Lung infection
  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Death

While government regulation requires that employers protect their workers from silica dust exposure by keeping exposure at a permissible exposure level (averaged over an eight-hour day), not all employers comply. Practices that can minimize dust levels include keeping counters wet while cutting and providing proper respirators.

The CDC reports that 19 cases of silicosis among engineered stone counter cutters have been reported, two of which have resulted in death. The agency cites statistics that 96,000 workers are in this industry nationally and that more silicosis cases are likely because of a lack of medical examinations.

The problem has also been reported internationally.

Get tested; get treated; talk to a lawyer

Any New Yorker who has worked in this industry should seek medical examination for silicosis, which usually begins with a chest X-ray. Should scarring be present, begin immediate medical treatment to slow the progress of the illness and alleviate symptoms. Give notice to your employer and apply for workers’ compensation.

At Silverman, Silverman & Seligman, P.C., in Schenectady, our lawyers will assist with the initial workers’ compensation claim as well as with administrative or court appeals. The earlier we become involved, the more we can help guide the claim, but involving a lawyer at any stage can be important. We fight for the workers’ compensation benefits our clients deserve, which can be substantial for an advanced case of silicosis.

At Silverman Law, we help our clients with work injuries develop their medical records with thorough medical assessment to support their workers’ compensation claims. We also analyze whether they may also be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI.

Our attorneys do not charge a fee for initial office or phone conferences. Contact us now if you work with stone or engineered stone counters to discuss the situation at 518-631-4521.