Rock Workers and Silicosis

Silicosis is a disease that affects the lungs and is incurable. If you develop this disease you may require a lung transplant. It is likely this condition would never be compensated under Iowa law's workers' compensation program, due in part to the statute of limitations. The Robinson case confirms this outcome.

If you believe you have silicosis seek immediate legal assistance. DO NOT WAIT!

American Lung Association Definition

Silicosis is a lung disease that is caused by inhaling tiny bits of silica. Silica is a common mineral that is part of sand, rock and mineral ores like quartz. People who work in jobs where they could breathe in these tiny silica bits—like sandblasting, mining, construction and many others—are at risk for silicosis. The silica dust can cause fluid buildup and scar tissue in the lungs that cuts down your ability to breathe. Silicosis cannot be cured, but you can prevent it if you take specific steps to protect yourself and your family. 

Types of Silicosis by MedlinePlus

Three types of silicosis occur:

  • Simple chronic silicosis, which results from long-term exposure (more than 20 years) to low amounts of silica dust. The silica dust causes swelling in the lungs and chest lymph nodes. This disease may cause people to have trouble breathing. This is the most common form of silicosis.

  • Accelerated silicosis, which occurs after exposure to larger amounts of silica over a shorter period of time (5 to 15 years). Swelling in the lungs and symptoms occur faster than in simple silicosis.

  • Acute silicosis, which results from short-term exposure to very large amounts of silica. The lungs become very inflamed and can fill with fluid, causing severe shortness of breath and low blood oxygen levels.

Let’s look at the occupations where we are most likely to have workers being exposed to environmental conditions, job site risks, where silicosis is most likely to occur.

People who work in jobs where they are exposed to silica dust are at risk. These jobs include:

  • Abrasives manufacturing

  • Glass manufacturing

  • Mining

  • Quarrying

  • Road and building construction

  • Sand blasting

  • Stone cutting

Symptoms include a persistent cough, shortness of breath and weight loss. If you think you may have silicosis see your doctor and tell him or her about your work history around silica dust. The doctor will likely order a series of tests to exclude other conditions with similar symptoms, like tuberculosis. The doctor is likely to order a chest x-ray, chest CT-scan, pulmonary function test, test for tuberculosis and finally a blood test to exclude connective tissue diseases.

Persons with silicosis are at high risk of developing tuberculosis (TB). Silica is believed to interfere with the body's immune response to the bacteria that cause TB. Skin tests to check for exposure to TB should be done regularly. Those with a positive skin test should be treated with anti-TB drugs. Any change in the appearance of the chest x-ray may be a sign of TB.

Patients with severe silicosis may need to have a lung transplant.

Additional Resources:

Today's Case of Interest Robinson v. Mine Safety Appliances Co

Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit Docket: 14-2961

Opinion Date: August 3, 2015

Areas of Law: Injury Law, Products Liability

Robinson worked as a sandblaster for decades. Sand sometimes breaks down into silica dust, which, if inhaled, can cause the incurable lung disease silicosis. By 1997, Robinson knew that sandblasting could cause silicosis. In 1998, he saw Dr. Ragland, after coughing up white mucus. In 2002, he went to Ragland for bronchitis. In 2007, Robinson went to an emergency room for chest pain. The report listed three possibilities: tuberculosis, sarcoidosis, or a pneumonoconiosis disease (e.g., silicosis) caused by inhaling dusts. Medical notes reflect an “impression” of “silicosis related to sandblasting.” Robinson saw a respiratory specialist, to “follow up his silicosis.” Ridgeway’s notes, shared with Ragland, list an “impression” of silicosis. In 2011 Ridgeway biopsied Robinson’s lung. According to Robinson, Ridgeway then first told him he had silicosis. In 2012, Robinson sued entities that “sold, designed, manufactured, or marketed . . . silica related products.” The Eighth Circuit affirmed that the suit was time-barred. Arkansas’s three-year limitations period for product-liability actions applied, subject to a discovery rule: the period “does not commence running until the plaintiff knew or, by the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have discovered the causal connection between the product and the injuries suffered.” Robinson should have known in 2007 that silica-related products had damaged his lungs.

Steve Lombardi
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Iowa personal injury, workers' compensation, motorcycle, quadriplegic, paraplegic, brain injury, death
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