The engineered stone industry has experienced a boom over the past two decades, partially aided by the introduction of artificial stone countertops. These products are often composed of a quartz and resin blend which can release dangerous silica dust when processed by workers.
Although federal and state regulations impose workplace standards for prominent employers and manufacturers in the stone fabrication trade, a lack of enforcement and adherence has resulted in a drastic increase of life-threatening diseases like silicosis. Consequently, stone fabrication workers are filing silicosis lawsuits to recoup their losses caused by the negligence and recklessness of their employers who failed to provide proper safety equipment and procedures to reduce the risk of these diseases.
Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) Chief Cause of Occupational Silicosis
In the fabricated stone industry, workers run a uniquely high risk of overexposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS). This common byproduct of modifying and installing artificial stone countertops is a particulate which is 100 times smaller than a grain of sand.
Without sufficient workplace safety protocols, long-term inhalation of respirable crystalline silica can result in the development of silicosis. The progressive lung disease is incurable and worsens over time, which means that sufferers will struggle from it for the remainder of their lives.
Occupational silicosis in the stone fabrication industry has risen in prominence throughout the world over the past decade. After reports from Israel and Australia prompted investigations throughout the United States, clinical studies, exposés, and new regulations followed. Like earlier incidents of widespread occupational silicosis, workers have begun to file silicosis lawsuits against their employers for a variety of mishaps, including negligence and a failure to warn.
OSHA Unveils New Safety Standards and Regulations for Engineered Stone Industry
In the mid-2010s, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) undertook a concerted effort to investigate engineered stone-related silicosis. The result was a set of industry-specific regulations intended to ensure worker health on the job.
OSHA tailored its silicosis regulations to the construction, general, and maritime industries. Although the risk level for each industry varies, the unchanging threat of silicosis exposure prompted OSHA to implement identical standards, which include:
- Action Level: 25 μg/m^3, time-weighted average (TWA) of 8-hour workday
- Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL): 50 μg/m^3 over TWA of 8-hour workday
Published on the same date of June 23, 2016, OSHA assumed enforcement authority for the construction industry regulations on September 23, 2017, and June 23, 2018, for general industry and maritime regulations.
Alongside introducing the new silicosis standards, OSHA also orchestrated an education campaign to ensure that both workers and employees were aware of the requirements.
Common Safety Protocol in the Artificial Stone Countertop Trade
Depending on the severity of the exposure, a worker may develop silicosis mere weeks after sustaining a dangerously high dose of RCS. Longer-term and low-level exposures tend to result in the development of silicosis after a latency period of years.
Consequently, OSHA mandates that employers perform continual air quality tests and direct potentially endangered workers to a credentialed healthcare provider for chest X-rays, respiratory questionnaires, and spirometry testing. In a health hazard report published as part of OSHA’s outreach campaign, the administration provides recommendations to mitigate the risk of RCS overexposure altogether.
In the artificial countertop industry, the most important workplace safety protocol involves the suppression of RCS production and the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) to workers to prohibit overexposure. OSHA states that employers can accomplish both objectives by:
- Using water delivery systems
- Modifying handheld angle grinders to deliver water to points of contact
- Employing shrouds and vacuums with a HEPA filter
- Installing local exhaust ventilation (LEV) systems
- Replacing dry grinders with wet-edge milling machines
- Equipping employees with respiratory PPE
Pursuant to OSHA’s Respiratory Protection Standards (29 CFR 1910.134), employers are also mandated to provide respiratory PPE if and when RCS levels exceed by at least ten times OSHA’s limitations. Although the administration concludes that respiratory PPE is insufficient to protect workers altogether, the use of NIOSH-approved N-95 or full-face respirators can shield otherwise unprotected engineered stone workers.
Employers Fail to Ensure Safe Workplace for Stone Fabricators
Over the course of the past several years, high-profile reporting has illustrated the degree to which artificial stone manufacturers and employers have flouted these federally mandated workplace protocols. The problem is quite alarming in California, where primarily migrant workers have developed severe silicosis diagnoses at younger ages.
Hispanic Migrant Workers and Silicosis
For example, a cutting-edge and novel silicosis study from UCSF-UCLA discovered that the number of silicosis cases in Californian stone workers between 2019 and 2022 was twice that of the period 2010-2018. Paying particular attention to the demographics of the participants, Jane Fazio, MD, revealed that “young, underinsured, and likely Latino immigrant workers” were at a high risk of developing silicosis.
The July 2023 study, however, was preceded by an RCS report from NPR in 2019 documenting the tragic experience of a young father, Uble Rodriguez, who developed silicosis from RCS overexposure. After working for the American shops of the major Spanish company Cosentino, he received a life-changing silicosis diagnosis and summarily sued his employers.
Silicosis Diagnoses Surge in 2020s
Although a settlement was reached, Cosentino denied liability for failing to warn its workers of the risks they ran, despite court documents disclosing that the company was aware of them as early as 2002. The NPR investigative reporting was superseded and confirmed in 2023 when the Los Angeles Times interviewed Hispanic migrant workers in the stone fabrication industry.
In much the same way that Rodriguez’s employers abjured basic, OSHA-mandated workplace protocol, artificial countertop businesses continue to endanger their workers for the sake of profit.
Silicosis Lawsuits Emerge Nationwide
One of the consequences of employer failure to adhere to federal regulations is the emergence of personal injury lawsuits from workers in search of compensation for sustained injuries. The ongoing silicosis litigation alleges employer negligence and/or a failure to warn workers of the dangers of RCS overexposure.
The allegations are all the more surprising given the extensive resources that OSHA and NIOSH offer to employers and employees to ensure workplace safety in the artificial stone countertop industry. Although few employers or manufacturers wish to invite federal inspectors to their job sites, they have both a legal and ethical obligation to safeguard the health and well-being of their employees – especially when lives and livelihoods are at stake.
If you work in the stone fabrication industry and subsequently developed silicosis or other diseases caused by silica dust exposure, you may be eligible to seek compensation for the injuries you have sustained.
Common Injuries and Damages in Silicosis Litigation
A silicosis diagnosis often has life-altering consequences. The incurable disease’s progressive nature can make formerly easy tasks difficult and financial security precarious. Insurance coverage may prove insufficient, and your ability to work will likely diminish over time.
When the disease reaches its most critical phase, the costs associated with treatment may far exceed your capacity to pay for them, further jeopardizing your and your family’s stability. Fortunately, legal recourse provides you the opportunity to seek compensation for your losses in the form of economic and non-economic damages covering:
- Medical expenses – past, present, and future
- Lost wages and income
- Out-of-pocket costs, like transportation and childcare
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Decreased quality of life
Given the state-specific statutes of limitation that impose legal deadlines for a claim’s eligibility, the sooner you speak with an experienced silicosis lawyer the better.
Contact an Experienced Silicosis Lawyer for Your Engineered Stone Lawsuit Today
The legal team at LLN believes that the negligence and silence of prominent manufacturers and employers in the stone fabrication industry seriously endangered the health and well-being of their workers. Now that they have begun to file silicosis lawsuits, we want to help.
Our qualified silicosis exposure lawyers offer free consultations for prospective clients and work on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay unless we win. With the attentiveness and care of a small-scale firm and the resources and connections of a nationwide practice, we provide individualized care to help our clients file claims, collect evidence, and get the compensation they deserve.
For more information about eligibility for a silicosis claim or requisite medical documentation, consider contacting us today.