OSHA: Workers Who Cut and Polish Engineered Stone Face Serious Health Risk

October 24, 2019

OSHA: Workers Who Cut and Polish Engineered Stone Face Serious Health Risk

Silica Dust Inhalation Linked to 18 Confirmed Cases of the Lung Disease, Silicosis

Over the past decade, imports of engineered stone grew more than eightfold as the material became popular for use as bathroom and kitchen countertops. Made of ground quartz bits and resin binder, this durable artificial stone is less likely to crack or stain, requires minimal maintenance, and can be formulated to create countertops that resemble marble or granite, but in custom colors and patterns.

There’s another way in which engineered stone differs from natural stone. Whereas granite is typically 45% silica at most, and marble’s silica content usually tops out at 10%, engineered stone is 90% silica or more. Consequently, the craftsmen who cut, grind and polish engineered stone, and even the workers who clean up after them, are at risk of inhaling large amounts of dangerous silica dust.

A “Weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report” issued earlier this month by the CDC described 18 cases of, including two deaths from, silicosis – an irreversible lung disease for which a lung transplant is the only proven treatment. All 18 cases involved workers employed in the stone fabrication industry. Several of the patients also had autoimmune diseases and two had latent tuberculosis infection.

It’s feared that thousands more workers across the country may be at risk. Dr. Cecile Rose, a co-author of the study states, "We believe there may be hundreds, if not thousands of cases of silicosis among workers in the engineered stone industry."

It’s estimated that nearly 100,000 workers are employed at more than 8,000 stone fabrication businesses across the U.S., including many small-scale operators who might not fully understand the risks of exposing employees to silica particles suspended in air. In 2015 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a hazard alert warning of the risk to workers who refine artificial stone into countertops for homes and businesses. OSHA went further in 2016, issuing workplace limits on exactly how much silica would be allowed in ambient air, since silica particles trigger inflammation and scarring in lungs.

Recommended preventative measures include the wetting of stone prior to cutting, grinding and polishing; regular vacuuming of solid surfaces; and filtration systems to remove silica dust from recirculated air.

This industry news update is presented by Butcher Block Co. – an Ecommerce business specializing in wood countertops and kitchen furniture and accessories.

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