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Occupational disease: Silicosis threatens the lives of millions

The dangers of exposure to silica dust were recognized many years ago, and to address the issue, the U.S. Department of Labor released a film about it as far back as 1938. Nothing much has been done about it since then, and about 1,600 new cases of silicosis -- an occupational disease caused by the inhalation of silica particles -- are reported annually. The number of fatalities per year is reported to be approximately 100.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is promoting stricter limits of exposure allowed for the more than two million workers who are exposed nationwide, including those in New York. Workers in industries such as sandblasting, construction, road repair and mining are at the greatest risk. Jobs that require workers to cut or drill into bricks, mortar and other materials cause silica particles to get airborne. These particles are so small that they are not visible, and inhalation occurs without the knowledge of the workers, only to pack the lungs with silica dust.

Although it can take between five and 10 years for silicosis to present, some cases develop much more quickly. One New York construction worker reported that he had to cut away damaged brickwork at a construction site, and because of the severe exposure, he developed silicosis in a matter of months. At age 40, this worker will never be able to work again, and his life expectancy is unknown.

Silicosis is an occupational disease with no cure and naturally brings about ongoing medical expenses. Victims in New York are entitled to pursue financial aid to cover medical expenses from workers' compensation, and in cases of temporary or permanent disability, additional compensation may be paid. Workers may also be entitled to compensation for lost wages.

Source: innovationtrail.org, "WATCH: Proposed OSHA regulations target fatal disease that remains daily risk for many workers", Michelle Faust, Sasha-Ann Simons, July 6, 2015

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