In 2018, two California workers died of severe silicosis, an incurable lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust. Both worked at the same stone countertop fabrication company, and both were under 40 when they passed away. Four more employees of the same company have also been diagnosed with silicosis.
This comes from a new report that documents 18 cases of silicosis among workers in the stone fabrication industry – workers who cut, grind, and polish engineered stone for kitchen and bathroom countertops. These cases are likely just the tip of the iceberg. As of 2018, there were nearly 9,000 establishments doing this type of work, with nearly 100,000 employees. From the report:
"Many stone fabrication shops are small-scale operations that might face safety challenges, including limited awareness, expertise, and investment in exposure-control technologies, that can result in inadequate worker protection. In addition, many employees in this industry are Hispanic immigrants, who might be especially vulnerable to workplace health hazards."
Silicosis is preventable, but more must be done to identify and protect workers who are exposed to silica dust. The federal silica standard was updated in 2016, so now is the time to focus on outreach, training, surveillance, and enforcement. The California Department of Public Health’s Occupational Health Branch has a web page with links to new safety resources for workers and employers – check it out here.