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Silica toxins in common dust may be the new asbestos

If part of your job as a construction worker involves cutting or drilling through concrete, masonry, rock or other mineral-containing substances, you probably take many safety precautions. You wear gloves to protect your fingers and hands. You use a face shield to cover your eyes and face. You wear ear plugs to avoid damaging your hearing.

What about your lungs? You probably try to keep from breathing the dust that stirs up as you cut. However, that may not be enough. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has recently recognized new dangers from inhaling dust while cutting through concrete products.

Exposure to crystalline silica

The rate of death due to lung cancer among construction workers is 50 percent higher than that of workers in other industries. You may think it is related to asbestos exposure, but this is only partly true. About 2 million workers face exposure to crystalline silica, a toxin found in the dust particles of concrete and similar products. You may have friends and co-workers in construction who suffer from chronic bronchitis, emphysema or COPD, and others who are dealing with the shocking diagnosis of incurable silicosis or lung cancer.

Your employer should be making every effort to protect you from exposure to these toxins, whether you handle the cutting and drilling, or you are nearby during a demolition. Some important safety measures include these:

  • Establishing a plan that limits the amount of silica exposure you and your co-workers must endure
  • Training you and your co-workers on the risks of silica exposure and the appropriate precautions
  • Supplying a wet saw for you to use to reduce the amount of toxic dust
  • Providing face masks for those in the area of the cutting
  • Finding alternate methods of cleaning up concrete dust besides sweeping or blowing
  • Using the appropriate tools for the job and keeping them in proper working order

Of course, your employer must provide regular medical exams for you and your co-workers, including chest X-rays, and keep records to monitor any health conditions linked to silica exposure.

What can you do now?

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of lung disease, including a persistent cough, abnormal breathing or hoarseness, seek medical advice immediately. The condition may be treatable, and your doctor may be able to offer therapies that relieve your discomfort.

Your next step may be to learn everything you can about your legal options. If you feel your employer did not do enough to protect you from exposure to asbestos or crystalline silica, you may be eligible to pursue compensation in Ohio civil courts.

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