When one considers the vast diversity of materials that go into the average residential or commercial construction project, it’s small wonder that particulate dust from those materials may be released as a byproduct.

Respirable crystalline silica is an example of the dust that results when construction workers chip, cut or drill objects that contain crystalline silica. The substance is found in many minerals, as well as soil, sand and granite. Similarly, many different construction activities may produce dust exposure to workers, such as sand blasting surfaces to remove paint, jack hammering, concrete mixing or drilling, or tunneling.

Nationwide, perhaps as many as 2 million workers might be exposed to dangerously high levels of silica. In crystalline form, the substance is classified as a human lung carcinogen. In addition, breathing the dust can cause silicosis, or the formation of scar tissue in the lungs that reduces lung capacity and can make workers more susceptible to other lung infections, like tuberculosis.

Although federal regulators at the U.S. Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration have proposed a new regulation, the rule has met resistance from several organizations in the construction industry. The groups have requested an extension on submitting their written comments. One concern seems to be whether the improvements in safety are technologically and/or economically feasible.

The resistance might not surprise a workers’ compensation attorney, however, as the goals of increasing profits and worker safety are not always aligned. Even so, the health risks of silica dust are well documented. For that reason, a worker who becomes injured because of exposure to crystalline silica might have a strong claim against his or her employer — even if the employer claims to be in compliance with existing safety regulations. 

Source: ohsonline.com, “Groups Seek Comment Extension on Silica Proposed Rule,” Oct. 7, 2013