Construction workers in Virginia may have good reason to worry about the safety of the very air they breathe on the job. Silica dust can be a significant contaminant at construction sites, generated when cutting, sanding or grinding concrete, brick, drywall and other standard construction materials. While silica is very common at construction sites, it can also carry grave dangers. However, enforcement of federal regulation has only been in place for six months, and many sites report that compliance continues to be weak and limited.
Silica dust is such a concern because it can lead to a serious occupational disease, the lung disorder called silicosis. When construction workers breathe in particles of silica dust on the job, it can embed in the lungs, leaving scar tissue behind. As the scar tissue grows, it can make it difficult to breathe; when full-blown silicosis develops, the disease can be fatal. Because of the risks posed by silicosis, the federal government limited the acceptable exposure to silica by 80 percent in March 2016. Enforcement of the regulation went into effect as of September 2017.
However, as of April 2018, only 116 citations for silica violations have been issued, despite widespread reports of questionable compliance in many construction sites. Where the citations were issued, there was often a range of safety violations, including a lack of fall protection, underlining the danger of some job sites to workers.
Silicosis is only one of the serious dangers construction workers may encounter on the job. From dealing with potentially unstable heavy equipment to the threat of falls, there are a number of risks to workplace safety that the construction industry presents. People who have been injured on the job may benefit from consulting with a workers’ compensation attorney to pursue their next steps to protect their rights and make a claim for the damages suffered.