Tag Archives: Silicosis

Countertop Workers Face Silicosis Risk from Engineered Stone Countertops

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

Engineered stone countertops, a popular fixture in today’s homes, pose a health risk to workers who cut and finish them. The danger stems from the material the countertops are made from, processed quartz, which contains silica levels up to 90 percent. Silica is linked to a debilitating and potentially deadly lung disease known as silicosis, as well as lung cancer and kidney disease.

While the countertops do not pose a risk to consumers in their homes, they do pose a risk to the workers who cut and finish them before they are installed. When the countertops are cut, silica particles are released into the air, which when breathed in by the workers can start processes leading to silicosis. Manufacturers of the engineered stone countertops assert that worker hazards can be reduced through the use of protective respirators and equipment designed to trap silica dust. Despite this assertion, many safety precautions taken by employers are often inadequate.

The first documented case of silicosis among countertop workers in the United States was reported two years ago. In countries such as Israel and Spain, where engineered stone products gained their popularity, many more countertop workers have been diagnosed with silicosis and have had to undergo lung transplants. The danger of silicosis in the construction industry led OSHA to recently issue new rules requiring construction workers’ silica exposure to be reduced by 80 percent beginning on June 23, 2017.

Tile and Granite Company Fined – Silica Dust Exposure

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

Wall to Wall Tile & Stone of Vancouver, Wash. has been fined $261,000 for failing to protect workers from exposure to silica dust and other health hazards associated with stone slab grinding. 

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) cited the employer for multiple instances of “failure to abate” serious violations after a follow-up inspection found that the employer had not corrected violations that it was cited for in November 2014.

An L&I inspection found that employees were exposed to silica quartz dust at more than three (3.4) times the permissible limit during stone slab grinding operations. Over time, breathing in silica dust can cause silicosis (a disabling lung disease), as well as lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis and airway diseases.

The employer was cited for seven “failure to abate” serious violations. These are violations that the company had been previously cited for but had not corrected, including:

  • Failing to use feasible controls to reduce employee exposure to silica dust — $40,500.

  • Not developing a written respiratory protection program to protect employees from inhaling silica dust — $40,500.

  • Failing to provide fit testing for workers required to wear full-face respirators — $40,500.

  • Not providing effective training for employees who wear full-face respirators —$40,500.

  • Not providing noise and hearing protection training to affected employees — $22,500.

  • Not providing annual hearing tests for workers exposed to excess noise — $22,500.

  • Failing to develop, implement and maintain a written Chemical Hazard Communication Program for employees using a variety of chemicals — $40,500.

Wall to Wall Tile & Stone was also cited for two “failure to abate” general violations, each with a penalty of $2,700. These violations were for not providing medical evaluations for employees who wear full-face respirators, and for not creating a list of chemicals used in the workplace.

In addition, L&I cited the company for two serious violations that were not associated with the 2014 inspection. One of the citations was for not ensuring that employees who wear full-face respirators don’t have facial hair. Respirators may not seal properly on workers with beards or other facial hair. The company was also cited for not providing appropriate respirators for employees grinding stone slabs. Each violation has a penalty of $4,050.

Serious violations are cited for hazards where there’s a possibility of serious injury or death. General violations are the lowest-level citation, involving safety issues where there is no possibility of serious injury or death.

The employer has 15 days to appeal the citation. Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.

For a copy of the citation, please contact L&I Public Affairs at 360-902-5413.

Photo credit: The Worlds of David Darling