OSHA officials are concerned over the surge in silicosis cases in workers who deal with engineered stone countertops.
Under the OSHA silica rule, workers exposed to hazardous levels of silica dust must undergo an examination by a licensed healthcare professional.
Engineered stone countertops, also known as quartz surfacing, are made from quartz aggregate held together with a resin binder.
These materials look like natural stone and have become increasingly popular for use in home building and home improvement—quartz surface imports to the U.S. increased by 800% from 2010 to 2018, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission.
But these engineered stone materials may contain substantially more crystalline silica than natural stone—more than 90% compared to less than 45% in granite.
And tasks such as cutting, grinding, polishing, and drilling can release hazardous levels of silica dust into the air.
Inhaling dust from materials containing silica can lead to silicosis, a progressive, debilitating, incurable, and sometimes fatal disease that results from scarring of the lungs and can cause permanent lung damage.
Only one case of silicosis associated with engineered stone fabrication was previously reported in the U.S.—in Texas in 2015.
But more recently, 18 cases—including two fatalities—have been identified among workers in the stone fabrication industry in California, Colorado, Washington, and Texas.
Outbreaks of silicosis have also been reported among workers in Israel, Spain, and Australia.
OSHA said that considering there were nearly 9,000 establishments with 96,000 employees in the stone-fabrication industry in the U.S. last year, it's likely that many of these employees have not undergone the required medical exam and that many silicosis cases remain undiagnosed.
OSHA reminds employers to ensure workers are protected from exposure to crystalline silica and to follow respirable crystalline standards.
Those standards require a physical exam that includes a respiratory questionnaire, a chest X-ray interpreted by a NIOSH-certified B reader, and a spirometry, which tests how well your lungs work.
Symptoms of silicosis may include cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, or chest pain.
The disease typically occurs after 10 or more years of exposure to respirable crystalline silica.
But high levels of exposure can lead to more rapid development of the disease and more severe lung damage.
Healthcare workers who suspect a patient’s health problems are caused by working with quartz-containing materials should report the case to the local or state health department.
Physicians can send an email to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2017, silicosis was a reportable condition in 22 states, including Connecticut, which requires doctors and hospitals to report the disease to the state health department within 48 hours of detection.
For more information, contact CBIA's Phillip Montgomery (860.244.1982).