Case Types We Handle
Personal Injuries
Car Accidents
Truck Accidents
Motorcycle Accidents
Bicycle Accidents
Construction Accidents
Nursing Home Abuse
Wrongful Death
Slip and Fall Accidents
Daycare Injury & Abuse
Case Types We Handle
Personal Injuries
Car Accidents
Truck Accidents
Motorcycle Accidents
Bicycle Accidents
Nursing Home Abuse
Wrongful Death
Slip and Fall Accidents
Daycare Injury & Abuse
Premises Liability
St. Louis
Case Types We Handle
Personal Injuries
Car Accidents
Truck Accidents
Motorcycle Accidents
Bicycle Accidents
Construction Accidents
Nursing Home Abuse
Wrongful Death
Slip and Fall Accidents
Daycare Injury & Abuse
Dangerous Drugs
Defective Products
Chemical Exposure

Silica Dust Exposure on Construction Sites [2024 Guide]

Written By:
Tor Hoerman
Tor Hoerman

Attorney Tor Hoerman, admitted to the Illinois State Bar Association since 1995 and The Missouri Bar since 2009, specializes nationally in mass tort litigations. Locally, Tor specializes in auto accidents and a wide variety of personal injury incidents occuring in Illinois and Missouri.

This article has been written and reviewed for legal accuracy and clarity by the team of writers and attorneys at TorHoerman Law and is as accurate as possible. This content should not be taken as legal advice from an attorney. If you would like to learn more about our owner and experienced injury lawyer, Tor Hoerman, you can do so here.

TorHoerman Law does everything possible to make sure the information in this article is up to date and accurate. If you need specific legal advice about your case, contact us. This article should not be taken as advice from an attorney.

Overview of Silica Dust Exposure & Silicosis Risks for Stone Fabricators at Job Sites

On this page, we’ll discuss Silica Dust Exposure on Construction Sites, health risks associated with respirable crystalline silica exposure, silica-related diseases, and much more.

Airborne Silica Dust Exposure: A Health Hazard for Workers

The construction industry is notorious for its workplace hazards.

Numerous factors contribute to this reputation, including the type of work done, equipment used, and materials handled.

One of the most significant dangers workers face on construction sites is exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust.

Silica dust is found in many common construction materials, such as sand, concrete, mortar, and stone.

These hazardous materials are known to weaken lung function and cause fatal respiratory and kidney diseases.

Because of its prevalence and potential health risks, several health and workplace safety organizations have established safety guidelines for employers regarding silica exposure.

Silica Dust Exposure on Construction Sites Silicosis Risks for Stone Fabricators

If you believe your employer failed to comply with safety guidelines and you have suffered harm from silica exposure, you may be entitled to compensation.

The construction accident lawyers at TorHoerman Law are here to help.

Call us now or use the chatbot on this page for a free and instant case evaluation.

Table of Contents

Understanding Silica Dust Exposure

Silica dust, also known as respirable crystalline silica, is created when silica-based materials are cut, drilled, ground, or crushed.

These materials produce fine particles that can easily become airborne.

When inhaled, silica dust particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and cause various health issues.

In the construction industry, particularly in tasks involving stone, concrete, brick, and mortar, workers are often exposed to dangerous levels of silica dust.

Stone fabricators, in particular, face significant risks due to the intensive cutting, grinding, and polishing processes involved in working with stone materials.

These processes generate substantial amounts of life-threatening respirable crystalline silica dust.

Stone fabricators and other occupations working directly with silica or silica-based materials might not be able to avoid this toxic material completely.

However, strategies and regulations are in place to minimize silica dust exposure and reduce the risk of illness, which we’ll cover in later sections.

The Health Risks Associated With Inhaling Silica Dust

Inhaling silica dust poses various serious health risks to individuals.

The most common conditions construction workers could sustain from inhaling respirable crystalline silica dust include:

  • Silicosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Kidney disease


Silicosis is a debilitating lung disease caused by inhaling respirable crystalline silica particles.

These specks of silica dust can accumulate in the lungs, leading to inflammation and scarring of the lung tissue.

Over time, this accumulation and scarring can progress, causing irreversible damage to the lungs and impairing their ability to function effectively.

Silicosis typically develops after prolonged exposure to high levels of silica dust, often over several years or decades.

Symptoms of silicosis may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent cough
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Respiratory failure

In advanced stages, silicosis can severely impair lung function, leading to respiratory failure and even death.

Additionally, individuals with silicosis are at an increased risk of developing other respiratory complications, such as tuberculosis and fungal lung infections, due to their compromised lung function.

If you’ve been working with silica materials, such as stones, concrete, mortars, and so on, and are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned, it’s best to consult a doctor. Early detection can prevent silicosis from progressing and inflicting irreversible damage.

Lung Cancer

Long-term exposure to respirable crystalline can cause extensive cellular damage in the lungs, increasing the likelihood of developing lung cancer.

Construction workers exposed to silica dust in occupations such as mining, quarrying, and construction have a higher incidence of lung cancer compared to the general population.

The development of this fatal disease is further exacerbated by smoking tobacco or cigarettes.

According to this statistical report, about 25.5% of construction workers on the construction site are regular cigarette smokers.

Lung cancer is a fatal illness that claims many lives.

The survival rate of lung cancer ranges from 23 to 28%, depending on various factors such as the stage at which the cancer is diagnosed, overall health, and more.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of respiratory-related conditions that progressively diminish optimal lung function.

Conditions classified under COPD include emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Exposure to crystalline silica particles is a known risk factor for developing COPD.

Inhalation of microscopic silica particles can cause chronic inflammation and scarring of the airways, leading to airflow limitation and respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

Individuals with pre-existing lung conditions, such as asthma, may be particularly susceptible to developing COPD as a result of silica dust exposure.

A worrying fact about COPD is that its symptoms are delayed, meaning you won’t exhibit any evident symptoms until a considerable amount of damage has been inflicted on the lungs.

Several treatment options are viable for COPD, such as medication, oxygen therapy, lifestyle modification, and surgery.

These treatments are typically palliative in nature and cannot reverse the damage already done to the lungs.

Kidney Diseases

In addition to its effects on the respiratory system, exposure to silica dust can also adversely affect kidney health.

Chronic exposure to silica dust has been associated with an increased risk of developing kidney disease, including chronic kidney disease (CKD) and end-stage renal disease (ESRD).

Silica particles can also collect in the kidneys, leading to inflammation, scarring, and impaired kidney function after accumulating enough particles.

Individuals with pre-existing kidney conditions or those with prolonged occupational exposure to silica dust are at a heightened risk of developing silica-related kidney disease.

CKD and ESRD are chronic conditions that require ongoing or lifelong medical treatment, such as dialysis or kidney transplant, to manage.

These treatments can be expensive and significantly impact an individual’s quality of life.

Sources of Silica Dust on Construction Sites

Silica can come in various forms.

As repeatedly mentioned in previous sections, concrete, stone, mortar, and other construction materials could contain respirable crystalline silica.

Identifying the sources of silica dust on construction sites and in stone fabrication settings is crucial for implementing effective control measures to protect workers from exposure.

Common sources of silica dust and specific operations that generate respirable particles in construction sites include:

  • Cutting and Sawing: Cutting concrete, brick, or stone with saws or abrasive blades generates significant amounts of silica dust.
  • Grinding and Sanding: Using grinders or sanders to smooth or shape concrete, stone, or masonry surfaces can dissipate silica dust.
  • Drilling and Chiseling: Drilling into concrete, brick, or stone surfaces and chiseling away material can release silica dust. Examples include drilling anchor holes or chipping away excess material during masonry work.
  • Demolition and Breaking: Breaking up or jackhammering concrete structures, brick walls, or stone surfaces during demolition activities generates large amounts of silica dust.
  • Abrasive Blasting: Blasting paint or rust off concrete or stone surfaces to remove coatings or clean surfaces can distribute silica dust.

Stone fabricators face major risks of silica exposure.

The most common silica sources in stone fabrication settings include:

  • Fabricating Stone Slabs: Stone fabricators often use routers and other cutting tools to shape stone slabs for countertops, tiles, or architectural features. These operations produce significant amounts of silica dust, particularly during dry cutting.
  • Stone Polishing: Smoothing and polishing stone surfaces using grinders, polishers, or sanders generates silica dust.
  • Hand Finishing: Hand finishing operations such as sanding or shaping stone edges with hand tools can also scatter silica dust.

Minimizing Silica Dust Exposure in the Construction Site

Preventive measures and best practices for minimizing silica dust exposure are crucial for protecting construction workers and stone fabricators.

Preventative measures include a combination of engineering controls, work practices, personal protective equipment (PPE), and training and education.

Engineering Controls

Engineering controls refer to the use of equipment, machinery, or structures to minimize hazards in a work environment.

Leveraging engineering controls for silica dust includes using water or ventilation systems to reduce respirable dust levels and employing tools with built-in dust collection systems.

  • Switching to a Wet System: Implementing wet methods, such as wet cutting or wet drilling, helps suppress silica dust by dampening the material being worked on.
  • Ventilation Systems: Ventilation systems, including local exhaust ventilation and dust collection systems with HEPA filters, effectively capture dust at the source, preventing it from dispersing into the air.
  • Substitution of Materials: Substitute materials with lower silica content whenever possible.
    • For instance, using silica-free abrasives or engineered stone with reduced silica content can help minimize dust generation during cutting, grinding, or polishing operations.
  • Enclosures and Isolation: Enclose work areas or use barriers to contain silica dust generated during construction or fabrication activities.
    • Isolating the work area helps prevent dust from spreading to other parts of the site and reduces exposure risks to workers in adjacent areas.

Work Practices

While engineering controls often focus on environmental and equipment modifications, work practices refer to changes in operational systems.

Effective work practices can reduce the amount of silica dust generated and prevent its spread into the air:

  • Wet Cutting and Drilling Techniques: Whenever feasible, employ wet-cutting methods or use water suppression systems to control dust emissions.
  • Dust Suppression and Cleanup: Implement dust suppression measures, such as misting systems or dust suppressant agents, to minimize dust generation during operations.
    • Use vacuum systems for easy cleanup rather than manual sweeping, which can re-suspend dust into the air.
  • Scheduled Maintenance and Equipment Inspection: Regularly inspect and maintain equipment to ensure proper functioning of dust control measures.
    • Promptly repair or replace worn-out components, such as filters or hoses, to maintain the effectiveness of ventilation systems and other engineering controls.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is the first line of defense against silica dust exposure.

When engineering controls and work practices cannot eliminate respirable dust levels, PPE can significantly reduce the amount of silica dust workers inhale.

According to a study conducted researchers in Spain, stone fabricators who worked in a client’s home experienced higher levels of exposure than those who worked in a factory.

Researchers relate this outcome to PPE’s availability and proper use in a factory setting.

Here’s how proper PPE usage can help:

  • Respiratory Protection: Provide workers with appropriate respiratory protection, such as N95 respirators or powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs).
    • Respirators should be snugly fitted and worn consistently during tasks with high silica dust exposure.
  • Protective Clothing: Wear suitable protective clothing, such as coveralls or disposable suits, to prevent silica dust from settling on skin and clothing.
    • Encourage workers to remove contaminated clothing and wash exposed skin thoroughly after completing tasks involving silica dust.

Training and Education

An informed worker is a safe worker.

Having proper knowledge about the causes, potential risks, regulatory standards, and preventative measures regarding silica dust exposure helps workers understand the severity of the issue and accountability for their safety.

An effective training program should cover:

  • Silica Hazards Awareness: Educate workers about the health risks of silica dust exposure, including the potential for developing silicosis, lung cancer, COPD, and kidney disease.
    • Ensure workers understand the importance of following established control measures and best practices to minimize exposure.
  • Safe Work Procedures: Provide comprehensive training on safe work procedures for controlling silica dust exposure, including using engineering controls, work practices, and PPE.
    • Emphasize the importance of adhering to established protocols and guidelines to mitigate risks effectively.
  • Federal and State Regulations: Outline regulations regarding silica dust exposure, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard for respirable crystalline silica.
    • Ensure workers understand their rights and responsibilities under these regulations.

OSHA's Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard

OSHA’s Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for Construction is based on the 29 CFR 1926.1153, the OSHA standard for respiratory protection using PPE.

This standard encompasses various industries, including construction, general industry, shipyards, longshore, and marine terminals.

This document defines the appropriate protective equipment for workers frequently exposed to respirable crystalline silica and also establishes the permissible exposure limit (PEL) to determine the maximum concentration of dust a person can inhale without experiencing adverse effects over an eight-hour work shift.

According to this regulation, the PEL for silica dust is 50 μg/m3 for an eight-hour time-weighted average (TWA).

Workers operating outdoors in the open air who are exposed to silica dust for less than four hours aren’t required to use respiratory protection.

However, workers operating indoors or for more than four hours (regardless of whether outdoors) need to use respiratory protection.

The respirator used should have an assigned protection factor (APF) of at least 10, meaning that the respirator must reduce the exposure level by at least 10 times.

Respirators should also be NIOSH-certified.

This standard also discusses the need for a comprehensive written exposure control plan.

Employers must establish and implement a written plan that identifies the tasks that involve exposure to respirable crystalline silica, the engineering controls and work practices for each task, and the procedures used to limit exposure.

Your Rights To a Safe Working Environment

While these risks inherently exist in the construction and stone fabrication industry, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have the right to a safe working environment.

Employers are legally responsible for protecting their workers from hazards, such as silica dust exposure, regardless of the industry.

Workers injured in a construction accident have a right to pursue compensation through the worker’s compensation system.

A worker’s compensation claim is a no-fault system.

An injured worker doesn’t need to prove who is liable for their injuries; the accident only has to occur during work hours.

If a known occupational hazard exists on the work site and the employer didn’t take proper measures to protect their workers, they can be liable for any resulting health issues.

In this case, the injured worker could pursue a personal injury lawsuit against their employer for damages.

Consulting with an experienced workplace or construction accident attorney can help you seek compensation and justice for workplace exposures.

TorHoerman Law: Talk to Our Construction Accident Attorneys Today

Construction accident injuries can inflict life-long consequences.

Injured workers should be able to access the medical care they deserve while being compensated for lost wages and other damages.

At TorHoerman Law, we understand the physical, emotional, and financial toll construction accidents such as exposure to silica dust can have on workers and their families.

Our experienced attorneys are dedicated to helping injured workers seek justice and fair compensation for their injuries.

Call us now or use our chatbot for an efficient and free case evaluation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is respirable crystalline silica, and why is it dangerous?

    Respirable crystalline silica is a very fine form of silica dust generated during activities like cutting, grinding, or blasting stone and other materials containing quartz.

    Silica dust can penetrate deep into the lungs when inhaled, leading to serious respiratory illnesses such as silicosis, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which can significantly impact health and potentially be fatal.

  • What are common sources of silica dust exposure at construction sites?

    Silica dust is commonly produced on construction sites during the manipulation of materials like sand, concrete, stone, and mortar.

    Operations such as cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing of these materials are particularly hazardous and can release dangerous levels of silica dust into the air, posing a risk to workers’ health.

  • What protective measures can reduce the risk of silica dust exposure?

    Employers are required to implement engineering controls such as wet-cutting methods, local exhaust ventilation, and dust capture systems to minimize airborne dust.

    Personal protective equipment (PPE), including respirators, should be provided and properly worn by workers.

    Regular training on safe practices and the use of PPE is also essential in reducing exposure risks.

  • What rights do workers have if they develop silicosis or other health issues from their work environment?

    Workers who develop health complications from silica dust exposure on the job have the right to seek compensation through workers’ compensation claims.

    If negligence is involved, such as failure to provide adequate safety measures, they may also have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit against their employer or other responsible parties.

  • How can a lawyer help if I'm affected by silica exposure?

    A construction accident lawyer can assist in navigating the complexities of filing a claim, whether it’s for workers’ compensation or a personal injury lawsuit.

    They can help gather necessary evidence, such as documentation of safety violations and medical records, to build a strong case.

    Lawyers can negotiate with insurance companies and represent the injured worker in court to ensure they receive fair compensation for their injuries and related losses.

Written By:
Tor Hoerman

Tor Hoerman

Owner & Attorney - TorHoerman Law

Do You
Have A Case?

Here, at TorHoerman Law, we’re committed to helping victims get the justice they deserve.

Since 2009, we have successfully collected over $4 Billion in verdicts and settlements on behalf of injured individuals.

Would you like our help?

About TorHoerman Law

At TorHoerman Law, we believe that if we continue to focus on the people that we represent, and continue to be true to the people that we are – justice will always be served.

Do you believe you’re entitled to compensation?

Use our Instant Case Evaluator to find out in as little as 60 seconds!

$20 Million
Toxic Tort Injury

In this case, we were able to successfully recover $20 Million for our client after they suffered a Toxic Tort Injury due to chemical exposure.

$103.8 Million
COX-2 Inhibitors Injury

In this case, we were able to successfully recover $103.8 Million for our client after they suffered a COX-2 Inhibitors Injury.

$4 Million
Traumatic Brain Injury

In this case, we were able to successfully recover $4 Million for our client after they suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury while at daycare.

$2.8 Million
Defective Heart Device

In this case, we were able to successfully recover $2.8 Million for our client after they suffered an injury due to a Defective Heart Device.

Guides & Resources
Do You
Have A Case?

Here, at TorHoerman Law, we’re committed to helping victims get the justice they deserve.

Since 2009, we have successfully collected over $4 Billion in verdicts and settlements on behalf of injured individuals.

Would you like our help?


Related Guides

What Our Clients Have To Say