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Construction Workers Exposed to Silica Dust

Hundreds of construction workers are injured every year in dramatic workplace accidents like falls and explosions. But occupational illnesses also leave many workers sidelined. What’s worse, some of the most serious illnesses can progress rapidly to death. At Powers & Santola, LLP, our New York construction accident lawyers can represent any worker injured on the job, including those who inhale dangerous substances. Silica dust is a major health hazard, resulting in serious illnesses like cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Please contact our firm to discuss your diagnosis, as well as your legal ability to obtain compensation.

What is Silica Dust?

Silica is a common substance found in sand, clay, and rocks. Silica is also used in many construction materials, such as tiles, mortar, and bricks.

The key risk with silica is that a worker will inhale dust containing it. Workers generate dust when they perform:

  • Drilling
  • Grinding
  • Polishing
  • Cutting

Fine dust is called respirable crystalline silica (RCS), which is recognized as one of the most dangerous substances on construction sites. In fact, it is probably second only to asbestos in terms of dangerousness. RCS is so fine that the human eye cannot see it, but workers can inhale it directly into their lungs. Many workers breathe in silica when they are drilling or grinding, or else they work near those locations.

Occupational Illnesses and RCS

Workplace exposure to RCS can lead to many illnesses, all of which are serious. We have seen many people diagnosed with:

  • Lung cancer. Crystalline silica is a carcinogen, meaning it causes cancer. Lung cancer is one of the hardest cancers to treat, with very long odds of a full recovery.
  • Silicosis. This is a lung disease which has common symptoms: coughing, inflammation, and scarring of lung tissue (fibrosis). Unfortunately, silicosis is irreversible. Those with the disease are at increased risk of developing infections and lung cancer, and about 100 people die each year from silicosis alone.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. These respiratory diseases include emphysema and bronchitis. Patients can struggle with coughing and difficulty breathing, with many workers disabled as a result. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is also a leading cause of death for construction workers.

Unfortunately, any amount of inhaled RCS is dangerous. Although some workers come down with cancer only after years of exposure, others develop disabling conditions very soon after inhaling RCS.

If you are diagnosed with any of the above illnesses, you should consider whether silica exposure is the cause.

OSHA Standards

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has adopted a standard which requires employers to limit construction worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica. The standard is flexible, but essentially requires dust control.

Employers must:

  • Create an exposure control plan which includes ways to measure risk and restrict access where high exposure is likely to occur.
  • Limit those practices which expose construction workers to RSC, if an alternative exists.
  • Provide medical exams like X-rays to a worker every three years, if the worker wears a respirator for a certain number of days.
  • Train construction workers on RSC and how to limit exposure.
  • Maintain records on exposure, medical exams, and other information.

In sum, OSHA requires that employers take RSC seriously and develop and implement a plan for limiting their employees’ exposure. A contractor should provide at-risk workers with necessary protection equipment, including respirators.

Compensation after RSC Exposure

A construction worker might qualify for benefits after exposure if they suffer some sort of disability or occupational illness. Most of our clients reach out to us after receiving a tough cancer or silicosis diagnosis. We immediately review whether the worker is exposed to dust or silica at work.

Workers should qualify for workers’ compensation benefits for an identified occupational illness. These benefits should cover the cost of treatment, including surgery or chemotherapy, as well as rehabilitation.

Many lung conditions are not curable, which means you are looking at some impairment for the rest of your life. For example, the scarring from silicosis can result in a substantial reduction in lung capacity, which makes it hard to breathe. A worker with silicosis probably cannot return to construction and will need a less physically demanding job.

Workers’ compensation makes various benefits available when workers suffer a permanent disability. You might be totally or partially disabled. Other workers take a different, lower-paying job. Contact our construction accident lawyer to review what workers’ compensation benefits could be available.

Lawsuits for RSC Exposure

In some cases, you might also be able to file a lawsuit for your illness. We can’t provide a comprehensive list of situations when a lawsuit is appropriate, but a couple examples are instructive.

For example, your employer might have provided you with a defective respirator, which did not prevent inhalation of RSC. If so, you might have a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer for selling a defective product. You can seek full compensation for your losses, including physical pain and emotional distress.

In other situations, you might even sue your employer for silica exposure. Under New York’s Labor Law, an employer must provide a reasonably safe work environment. They also have an obligation to follow safety regulations. If they fail and you are injured as a result, you have legal rights to compensation.

You Deserve Compassionate Legal Guidance

A cancer or silicosis diagnosis is frightening. Many workers are desperate to get back on the job and begin earning money so they can pay their bills. We understand the confusion and fears many workers experience. Often, a construction worker will never return to the industry after the diagnosis of their occupational illness.

Call Powers & Santola, LLP today. Our legal team will carefully review all the facts, including whether silica was present on the job or in materials you worked with. Armed with this information, we can begin strategizing what compensation you are eligible to request. We do everything in our power to obtain the most compensation allowed under New York law for our construction accident clients. Please call us to find out more.

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