Silicosis Health Risks

Silicosis Diagnosis from the X-Ray of a Glass Factory WorkerSilicosis is a lung disease caused by breathing in tiny bits of silica, a mineral that is part of sand, rock, and mineral ores such as quartz. These microscopic bits can cause scarring in the lungs which leads to many severe side effects and even death.  It targets those workers that are exposed to the dust on a regular basis. Those involved in mining, fiberglass manufacturing, foundry workers and related glass industries are particularly at risk. The disease is responsible for more that 100 deaths per year in the United States.

Symptoms of Silicosis

According to the American Lung Association,  symptoms of silicosis may begin to appear a few weeks to a few years after exposure to the dust. A persistent cough is usually noticed first.  Fever and chest pain is often associated with the disease. As the condition worsens and becomes chronic, violent coughing, phlegm production, wheezing and bronchitis-like symptoms are recurring. An abnormal chest X-Ray can give visible confirmation of the disease as shown in the photo above.

Silicosis Causes and Risk Factors

Silicosis is caused by exposure to crystalline silica, which comes from chipping, cutting, drilling, or grinding soil, sand, granite, or other minerals. Thus, any occupation where the earth’s crust is disturbed can cause silicosis. Unfortunately a wide variety of industries involve these materials on a daily basis. As such, workers are vulnerable if inhalation masks or other personal protective gear is absent. Some of the industries that contribute to environments favorable to silicosis are:

  • Various forms of mining, such as coal and hard rock mining
  • Construction work
  • Tunnel work
  • Masonry
  • Sand blasting
  • Glass manufacturing
  • Ceramics work
  • Steel industry work
  • Quarrying
  • Stone cutting

Health Rights Under OSHA Regulations

If you work in a job that exposes you to silica dust, your employer must, by law, give you the correct equipment and clothing you need to protect yourself. You are responsible for using it—always—and for taking other steps to protect yourself and your family as you leave your job site and head home. NIOSH also recommends that medical examinations occur before job placement or upon entering a trade, and at least every 3 years thereafter. This especially true for silicosis.

The following InfoGraphic summarizes the silicosis danger.

Silicosis Infographic


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