Silicosis is one of several lung diseases that can result from inhaling large amounts of dust over a period of time. Silica is a naturally occurring mineral, one of the most commonly found in the Earth’s surface. Specifically, it occurs in sand and in rock, particularly granite, sandstone and shale. If you work a job that requires you to cut, drill or grind materials such as these, you may be at risk for silicosis from breathing in the resultant dust. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the particles of dust that cause silicosis are too small to see with the naked eye. The largest of them are only 10 microns in size. Because they are so minuscule, they travel through the airways to your lungs when inhaled and settle down into the deepest parts of the tissue. Once the particles are in your lungs, there is no getting them out. Over time, they cause scarring of the lung tissue, which makes it difficult to breathe. 

What can employers do to prevent silicosis? 

Your employer has a responsibility to provide a safe working environment. If your job puts you at risk of exposure to silica dust, your employer can help to mitigate the risk by providing you with personal protection equipment, such as a respirator. Employers can substitute materials likely to produce silica dust with those that are not. If a substitution is not possible, your employer can limit the time you spend in areas where silica dust is present or reduce concentrations with a water spray or local exhaust ventilation. 

What jobs pose a high risk of exposure? 

Any job that involves cutting, grinding or drilling rock or stone puts you at risk for silicosis. Perhaps the greatest risk comes from construction jobs, but people who work in foundries, pottery production or stone countertop fabrication are also susceptible.