If you earn your income in the New Hampshire granite countertop industry, your employer must explain the hazards of your job and take adequate measures to protect you from exposure to dangerous silica dust. Granite and other rocks and sand contain crystalline silica, which occurs as mineral quartz. Working with granite causes microscopic particles of crystalline silica that become airborne. Without even knowing, you can inhale these particles, and once they reach your lungs, they may attach to your lung tissue and cause inflammation.
Lung scarring will occur progressively, putting you at risk of developing silicosis. The scarring will limit the ability of your lungs to take in enough oxygen. Other illnesses that could result include kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or even lung cancer. Symptoms for which you can look include coughing, breath shortness and fatigue.
Silica content in granite countertops
Although mineral silica is present in most stones, its content in granite is significantly higher than in other natural stone types. While dolomite, onyx and calcite, for example, contain little silica, granite could contain as much as 50 percent. The crystalline silica-containing dust becomes airborne during removal from the quarry and every following process that takes place until it is installed as a countertop.
Who is at risk?
Cutting, chipping, drilling, sanding and grinding of granite release dangerous levels of tiny crystalline silica particles into the air, and without proper personal protective equipment or inadequate ventilation, you may inhale those particles with each breath you take. The following jobs are most hazardous:
- Although every step from sourcing granite in the quarry to polishing finishing and installation is risky, the highest level of exposure occurs during the use of hand tools like grinders, saws and high-speed rotating polishers.
- Dry cutting procedures in the workshop or at installation typically include contouring the stone by grinding, cutting and edging it, all processes that produce high dust levels.
- Duties such as handling bags containing ground quartz, mixing or moving bulk raw materials, cleaning mixers, and cleaning dust collection bags also cause exposure to silica-containing dust.
- Anyone who performs tasks nearby production operations that create dust can inhale the harmful particles.
- Along with all the production operators, quality control inspectors and technicians, maintenance workers, and those performing housekeeping duties will all risk exposure to airborne crystalline silica particles.
Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration prescribes strict safety standards and allowed exposure levels, many employers fail to prioritize employee safety.
As soon as you experience any symptoms that could indicate the start of lung damage, you should go for a medical evaluation. The sooner a doctor can diagnose silicosis, the more effective will be the treatment. Do not procrastinate due to concern over the high medical costs because the New Hampshire workers’ compensation insurance program will cover those expenses along with a portion of your lost income. You may even choose to secure the services of experienced legal counsel to navigate the benefits claims process on your behalf.