Grimes & Fertitta, P.C.

Kitchen countertops behind workplace deaths

Household items can pose risks to the workers who produce these products. Thousands of workers in this country who make countertops from engineered stone may be suffering irreversible workplace injuries by inhaling unhealthy amounts of silica dust because engineered stone is produced mostly from mineral silica.

A report was recently issued on 18 cases of illnesses among workers who work with engineered stone in Texas, California, Colorado and Texas. Most of these workers were men, Hispanic and suffered from a disease that was progressive and severe. Silica is not a risk once the countertop is installed but may pose a risk for workers who cut slabs for consumers.

The use of engineered stone became popular for countertops around a decade ago and is now commonly used in countertops for kitchens and bathrooms. Imports of this material grew about 800 percent from 2010 to 2018. This material is better than natural stone, according to manufacturers, because it is less likely to crack or stain.

Cases were discovered in California following a routine search of hospital discharge records. Public health workers identified a 38-old-worker who died of silicosis in 2018 after being employed by a countertop manufacturer. Another case then arose of a 36-year-old worker who died from silicosis illness in 2018. Four other workers from that company were also diagnosed with that illness.

Other cases were found in Texas and Washington. Illnesses were also reported in Colorado where one physician claimed that stricken workers included people who merely swept up after the stone was cut, along with those who directly cut and ground the stone.

Experts claim that controlling dust prevents this illness. This includes working with the stone while it is wet or using vacuum or filtration systems that remove dust from the air. In 2016, OSHA issued rules limiting how much silica could be in the air. However, the federal government ended OSHA's emphasis program for silica in 2017, which would have targeted manufacturers for inspections.

An attorney can help determine who is responsible for workplace illnesses. They can help victims take appropriate action to obtain compensation.

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