California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards (OSHA) Board proposed emergency silicosis regulation on December 14 amidst a rise in silicosis deaths in the artificial stone fabrication industry.
The proposed regulation seeks to require safer conditions for workers handling artificial stone, as well as natural stone which contains more than 10 percent silica. The OSHA board expects the regulation to substantially reduce silicosis deaths and cases in California, cost $66 million and lead to $603 million in benefits, not including indirect costs such as pain, suffering, lost lifetime productivity or lost benefits and wages.
The OSHA board notes that as of November 2023, The California Department of Health’s Occupational Health Branch reported 93 silicosis cases in the state’s artificial stone industry.
Silicosis Is Incurable, Caused By Inhaling Crystalline Silica
Silicosis is an incurable lung disease which is progressive and nature. It usually results in respiratory failure, pulmonary fibrosis and death.
The primary cause of silicosis is occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS). Anyone who is exposed to high amounts of RCS will develop silicosis in a matter of a few years.
When RCS particles are inhaled, they end up in the lungs, where they create fibrotic areas that can’t exchange oxygen. The lungs continue to be scarred even after RCS exposure stops.
Artificial stone workers are particularly susceptible to silicosis because artificial stone is composed of over 93 percent crystalline silica. Granite is composed of 10 to 45 percent crystalline silica and marble is composed of little or no silica.
A 2020 study found that around 54 percent of all dust particles generated from grinding and cutting artificial stone measure 10 µm or smaller, meaning they are respirable.
Board Declares An ‘Epidemic’ Of Silicosis In Artificial Stone Fabrication Industry
According to the OSHA board, there is an “epidemic” of silicosis in the state’s artificial stone fabrication industry.
Investigators and physicians with UCLA and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), in July 2023, reported that they identified 52 workers in California between 2010 and 2022 with silicosis, and that all of these workers had worked in shops fabricating countertops using artificial stone. Most of these cases were discovered in 2019 or later, with over 20 of the cases being discovered in 2022.
The investigators’ determination was that the workers developed silicosis because of their exposure to RCS while working in artificial stone fabrication shops.
These Silicosis Cases Are Particularly Deadly And Aggressive
Silicosis cases caused by inhalation of RCS while working in artificial stone fabrication shops appears to be, on average, more deadly and aggressive than the average silicosis case.
The UCLA and CDPH physicians and investigators found that 38 percent of the silicosis patients had advanced disease with massive pulmonary fibrosis, leading to severe reductions in respiratory capacity.
Ten of those patients died prior to investigators collecting and reporting their findings, at a median age of 46.
Three of the patients required lung transplantation. 59 percent of lung transplant recipients live five years or longer after the transplantation.
Only 45 percent of the patients reported their shops used water for dust suppression to try to prevent employees from being exposed to RCS.
About 12 to 21 percent of artificial stone fabrication workers worldwide develop silicosis.
A 2020 study found that 40 percent of patients with silicosis caused by artificial stone required lung transplants and 28 percent died, compared with three percent of patients with silicosis caused by natural stone who required lung transplants and none who died. The study found that silicosis caused by artificial stone featured high mortality, faster decline in lung function, rapid radiological progression and short disease latency.
Artificial Stone Fabrication Workers Are Uniquely Vulnerable
Around 98 percent of California workers in the artificial stone fabrication industry are Latino men, with most being foreign-born and having Spanish or an indigenous language as their primary language.
Around 20 percent of these workers are uninsured, and around 40 percent of them have restricted-scope Medi-Cal coverage, which means they only have access to emergency care.
About half of the patients identified by the UCLA and CDPH team initially presented to emergency departments.
Only seven percent of artificial stone countertop industry workers with silicosis received workers’ compensation.
According to the OSHA board, workers in this industry experience significant economic insecurity, and no evidence exists they belong to a labor union. The OSHA board states they may face retaliation if they report hazards in the workplace to Cal/OSHA or file claims for workers’ compensation, and have little ability to ask employers for improvements in the workplace such as the prevention of exposure to RCS.
OSHA Board Notes ‘Widespread Non-Compliance’ In Artificial Stone Fabrication Industry
The OSHA board noted that evidence exists of “widespread non-compliance” with title 8 standards in the industry.
In January 2019, Cal/OSHA inspected 106 artificial stone fabrication sites, and did personal worker air sampling at 47 sites.
Cal/OSHA’s findings included:
- 72 percent of workplaces committed one or more violations of CCR title 8, section 5204
- 57 percent of workplaces committed one or more violations of CCR title 8, section 5144
- 51 percent of workplaces had one RCS exposure or more in excess of the permissible exposure limit
- 25 percent of workers had RCS exposures above the permissible exposure limit
Cal/OSHA also interviewed workers at these worksites. They found that:
- 26 percent of workers reported sometimes using a dry method to cut, grind, laminate or polish artificial stone
- 75 percent of workers reported wearing half-face elastomeric respirators and/or disposable, filtering facepiece respirators for over 30 days in the last year
- 68 percent of workers said their employer hadn’t told them about results of silica air monitoring done at their workplace
- Only 20 percent of workers reported doing a respirator fit test in the last year
- Only 5 percent of workers reported their employers had them or their co-workers receive required silica medical examinations
OSHA Board Finds Existing Silica Standard ‘Not Well Suited’ To Artificial Stone Industry
The OSHA board stated that while the existing silica standard is well-suited to large employers with substantial resources, since it requires sophisticated exposure assessments, it is not well-suited to small businesses, which lack the capacity and often the willingness to conduct these assessments.
The OSHA board notes that the artificial stone fabrication industry consists of mostly small shops which operate with a five employee median.
According to the OSHA board, 68 percent of employers who were inspected in 2019 did not conduct silica exposure assessments.
The OSHA board also noted three loopholes limiting the effectiveness of the existing silica standard:
- Employers are allowed to avoid implementation of key protections when they claim the protections are infeasible
- Employers can exempt themselves from the standard by claiming exposures to RCS are probably below a certain level without actually conducting exposure monitoring
- Employers are allowed to conduct air monitoring on one day, exempting themselves from standards afterward if the results show that exposures are below a certain level
OSHA Board Predicts Many Will Die If Current Standards Remain
Cal/OSHA has estimated that:
- Around 4,040 workers work in stone fabrication shops in California
- Around 500 to 850 silicosis cases will probably happen in these workers
- Around 90 to 160 of these workers will probably die from silicosis
Cal/OSHA also estimates that:
- 600 shops are probably violating the current silica standard
- 500 shops are probably violating one or more requirements regarding respiratory protection
- 400 shops probably have one or more exposures to silica above the permissible exposure limit
- 1,000 workers probably have exposures to silica above the permissible exposure limit
OSHA Board Proposes Changes To Silica Standard
The OSHA board has proposed changes to CCR title 8, section 5204. The board states these changes will reduce exposure of workers to RCS, make compliance more straightforward and clear for employers, and improve the efficiency of the Cal/OSHA compliance program by:
- Defining specific trigger tasks regarding high exposure requiring special protections from exposure
- Having air monitoring requirements no longer be a prerequisite for employers wishing to implement prevention measures regarding RCS exposure
- Removing provisions that let employers declare prevention strategies regarding RCS exposure infeasible
- Removing provisions that let employers avoid prevention measures regarding RCS exposure by relying on “objective data”
- Making it more clear which tasks are expressly prohibited
- Updating signage inside “regulated areas” warning about the risk of death regarding RCS exposure
- Making engineering and work practice controls more clear
- Providing procedures regarding training employees regarding RCS exposure risks, how silicosis is caused, and how to protect against RCS exposure in the workplace
- Requiring effective respiratory protection
- Giving Cal/OSHA the ability to quickly identify hazards regarding RCS and efficiently stop operations or shut down shops until the hazards are rectified
Developed Silicosis After Working In The Artificial Stone Fabrication Industry? Call Us Today For A Free Consultation
Call us today for a free consultation, text us from this page or fill out the free case evaluation form on this page if you or a loved one has developed silicosis after working in the artificial stone fabrication industry. We can help you recover financial compensation for medical bills, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, pain, suffering, wrongful death and more.
We have been representing victims of hazardous exposure since 1990. We have recovered over $400,000,000 for injured Californians. We have vast experience in representing injured Californians and recovering financial compensation from those responsible for exposure to hazardous substances.
We won’t charge you any fee to represent you in connection with your silicosis until and unless we recover compensation for you, so you’ll never owe us any upfront fee or out-of-pocket fee.
If you can’t afford to have your silicosis treated, we can get you to a doctor who won’t charge you until your case is over.
Call us today for a free consultation. You may qualify for financial compensation.