NIOSH issues Alerts in response to immediate occupational health hazards. The Alerts are designed to inform workers that they are at risk and to propose ways of reducing that risk. Prevention of hazardous conditions cannot occur unless workers are in fact aware of hazards and how to avoid them. To accomplish this task, NIOSH Alerts request the assistance of health and safety officials, editors of appropriate trade journals, and employers in the effort to inform workers and implement recommendations. It is the goal of the Institute that through dissemination of these warnings, occupational injury and disease will be prevented.
More than one million American workers are currently at risk of developing silicosis, a debilitating, irreversible, sometimes fatal disease. The cause of silicosis has been known for centuries, yet Americans continue to die each and every year of this completely preventable disease. Silicosis is caused by breathing in particles of crystalline silica -- the primary component of sand. Since 1974, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has recommended that silica san be banned for use in abrasive blasting, and that a substitute material be used. The practice of using sand in abrasive blasting has been outlawed in the United Kingdom since 1949. Today, it is estimated that 100,000 American sandblasters are at risk of developing silicosis.
CONTINUING HUMAN TRAGEDY
"I had never heard of silicosis," said the worker speaking of his diagnosis. "There was one other man there who had died, but the boss told us he died of TB. We never thought of silicosis. When NIOSH came out to the parking lot with that portable hospital type thing, they did a bunch of tests and told me to see a doctor. All the questions they were asking seemed to apply to the way I was feeling." He said he had been experiencing discomfort for about a year, but could not afford to see a doctor to find out why. "I had shortness of breath when I would try to climb steep hills and things like that. It really got bad in the winter when it got cold. With that cold wind blowing I couldn't walk. I was struggling just to move."
"It is unacceptable to allow workers to continue to die from preventable diseases such as silicosis. All workers who use silica must be told of the hazards they face and the means of prevention," said Dr. Greg Wagner, Director of the NIOSH Division of Respiratory Disease Studies. NIOSH has issued an Alert nationwide to notify other workers, employers, trade unions, regulatory agencies, and other occupational and public health agencies of the risk of silicosis from sandblasting. The document describes 99 cases of silicosis among sandblasters. Of the 99 cases, 14 have already died of the disease, and the remaining 85 may eventually die from silicosis or its complications. The victims, ranging in age from 23 to 55, died due to working conditions which NIOSH has found to be common at sandblasting worksites. Unfortunately, these cases are not unique. According to Wagner, "Nationally, the cases reported may be only the tip of the iceberg of people afflicted with silicosis." The document describes the acute and chronic effects of silica exposure and outlines the crucial prevention steps.
WHO IS AT RISK?
HOW DOES EXPOSURE OCCUR?
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH EFFECTS?
The symptoms of silicosis include shortness of breath, fever, and difficulty breathing with physical exertion. The disease is diagnosed based on the presence of these symptoms in conjunction with x-ray assessments of dust-induced lung damage.
HOW CAN WORKERS BE PROTECTED?
WHAT PRECAUTIONS CAN REDUCE THE RISK?
For more information on this or other occupational safety and health concerns, call 1-800-35-NIOSH (toll-free). The NIOSH toll-free information system provides convenient access to NIOSH and its information systems.
Publication #: 93-124
This document is a NIOSH Publication, Publication date: 1993.
National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, Department of Health and Human Services, 200 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC, 20201. Phone: (800) 356-467
Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder. More