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Warnken, LLC Attorneys at Law, Attorneys & Lawyers, Pikesville, MD

Silicosis: A Horrific Workplace Hazard

by Stephanie Yanovich

For most of us, earning a paycheck from an employer is integral to our survival. It’s how we pay our bills, feed our children, and keep a roof over our heads. In return for compensation, we provide immense value to the people we work for through our time, our skill, and our dedication. So, it only seems reasonable to expect our workplace to ensure a safe environment and to view our well-being as a top priority. But too often, employers will barter our welfare in exchange for increased production, lower costs, and stronger profits. The workers who are impacted are then left to fight for their health and the financial future of their families.

Workers’ can die from silicosis

As detailed in a recent report by NPR, 18 workers who cut and polished artificial granite and marble for kitchen and bathroom countertops in California, Colorado, Texas and Washington have since contracted severe respiratory illnesses and lung injuries.  Two of the workers have died as a result of their ailments. Their health problems have been linked to prolonged inhalation of silica dust, which is a byproduct of the silica crystals that are used to produce the artificial, or “engineered,” countertops.  Silicosis, a potentially fatal lung disease that can only be treated via a lung transplant, is the most common malady of the affected workers.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the engineered stone industry has been quick to deflect blame for the suffering of its workers.  In a written statement submitted to NPR, A.St.A. World-wide, a trade organization representing several major artificial stone manufacturers, claimed that the risk of silica dust related illnesses “are not specific to engineered stone.” This refusal to take responsibility flies in the face of recent data from Australia showing that over 12% of its engineered stone cutters have silicosis. This discovery, along with the alarming uptick of silicosis cases among artificial stone workers in the United States, indicates that the nearly 100,000 U.S. workers in the industry may be at risk.

Despite the strong evidence of correlation between the engineered stone industry and respiratory illnesses such as silicosis, the federal government is currently limited in how much it can protect workers through regulations. In 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued restrictions for how much silica dust could be present in the air at engineered stone worksites. However, a year later, these regulations were abruptly terminated as a result of political lobbying from industry organizations. Now, workers at the more than 8,000 artificial stone fabrication companies across the country have been forced to put their lives on the line, day after day, as they labor for an industry that values their well-being at a distant second to profits. And with the popularity of engineered stone exploding due to its durability and cost effectiveness, the rate of illnesses within the industry can only be expected to rise.

We’ve Seen this Tragic Situation

At Warnken, LLC, we have experience with this tragic illness up close and personal.  Warnken, LLC is not a stranger to silicosis.  In fact, we recently successfully concluded a silicosis death case.  If you have experienced respiratory illness after working in an environment where artificial stone is manufacturered, processed, or installed, you owe it to yourself to speak to a qualified, experienced attorney who can determine if you have a viable workers’ compensation claim.  Most Maryland employers are required by law to purchase workers’ compensation insurance that is designed to pay the costs associated with employees who become ill or injured while performing their job duties.  Rest assured, however, that these insurance companies will often do everything in their power to deny sick and injured workers the benefits they deserve.  At Warnken, LLC, we never stop fighting workers’ compensation insurers until we secure our clients all the benefits they are entitled to. Your health and the future of the family that depends on you is at least worth a free, no pressure consultation with an attorney.  If it’s not us, that’s okay.  Just get help.  Get advice.

[See “Workers Are Falling Ill, Even Dying, After Making Kitchen Countertops,” by Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR, 2.Oct.19.]