A key selling point for any California home is its kitchen countertops. Buyers want to see granite, marble or engineered stone. To meet this demand, a large industry has sprung up, employing thousands of Californians who cut the material.
Researchers have found that large numbers of these cutters are developing a fatal disease known as silicosis.
This lung disease has long been a danger for people who have worked as miners or stoneworkers for many years, but researchers say they’re seeing countertop cutters diagnosed with silicosis while they’re still in their 20s and 30s.
Researchers believe the growing number of early-onset silicosis cases is attributable to the increased popularity of engineered stone, which is sometimes sold under the name quartz. This material has a high concentration of silica, which turns into a fine airborne powder when cut. When workers breathe in this dust, they can damage their lungs. When the damage is severe enough, it can be diagnosed as silicosis.
Those with silicosis develop severe coughs. They may be unable to get enough oxygen or suffer a lung collapse.
The only fully effective treatment for silicosis is a lung transplant.
Unsafe working conditions
There are things employers can do to protect their workers from the dangers of silica dust. By spraying water on the material during cutting, they can reduce the amount of airborne dust.
Even more importantly, employers can help protect their workers by providing respirator masks while they work.
Unfortunately, many workers say they are provided with insufficient masks or none at all.
California’s workers’ compensation system can provide workers with benefits to pay for medical care and lost wages after they have been injured on the job. This includes both injuries sustained in sudden accidents and injuries sustained after long exposure to dangerous material.
However, it isn’t always easy to get through the paperwork and bureaucracy of the workers’ compensation system. Many injured workers can benefit from professional guidance.