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Silicosis poses a serious health threat to construction workers

From heavy equipment operation to performing duties at great heights, Erie construction workers face a myriad of risks on a daily basis. While slightly less well-known, silicosis is a very serious medical condition affecting those in the construction industry that can cause extensive scarring in the lungs.

According to the American Lung Association, silicosis results from the continuous respiration of silica, which can be found in common construction materials such as rock, sand and quartz. On-the-job silica exposure affects approximately two million workers, many of them involved in some facet of the construction industry. Three types of silicosis exist, including acute, chronic and accelerated. Depending on the type of silicosis in question, symptoms can appear from a few weeks to 30 years after initial exposure.

Inhalation of silica damages the inner lining of the lungs, which then causes a scarring effect. Those afflicted by silicosis often experience fatigue, chest pain, weight loss and shortness of breath. Progressive massive fibrosis may occur in more serious cases, which is characterized by a significant stiffening of the lungs that inhibits breathing. Silicosis has also been known to increase the risk of lung cancer and tuberculosis in some people.

There is currently no cure for silicosis. However, the National Safety Council offers guidance on how to prevent silicosis from occurring. Respirators are a must when working in certain conditions, and should be supplied by employers as needed. Proper ventilation is also important, as are tools like water spray systems which can disperse airborne particles. When it comes to breaks, people should refrain from eating meals in areas replete with dust, and be sure to wash their hands properly to avoid consuming silica. Because early diagnosis can lessen the impact of silicosis, it’s recommended that workers undergo routine lung screenings.


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