Silica Exposure Lawsuits: The Next Toxic Tort?

With the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) signaling its increased attention to workers' exposure to crystalline silica, and the plaintiffs' bar evidently in search of new subjects for "toxic tort" claims, there is growing concern among builders about a potential rising tide of "silica exposure" lawsuits against them. Will that type of suit soon take its place alongside such historical legal headaches as asbestos and Chinese drywall claims? The possible good news for builders is that the science underlying silica exposure claims has generally been deemed questionable enough that plaintiffs have encountered significant difficulties in proving their claims. The bad news is that OSHA nevertheless appears to believe that pertinent studies clearly establish the dangers of crystalline silica. OSHA also believes that avoiding silica inhalation should therefore be a high priority both for workers and those for whom they work. OSHA's sustained focus on this subject makes it imperative for builders to educate themselves, and their personnel most likely to come into extensive contact with silica particles, about the key issues -- including the preventive measures that OSHA touts.

Crystalline silica is a basic component of soil, sand, granite, and many other minerals. Quartz is the most common form of crystalline silica. Tiny particles no more than one-hundredth the size of grains of sand can be created and sent airborne during work with stone, concrete, brick or mortar. According to OSHA, which proposed new rules in August 2013 regarding silica exposure, such "exposure remains a serious threat to nearly two million U.S. workers, including more than 100,000 workers in high-risk jobs such as abrasive blasting, foundry work, stonecutting, rock drilling, quarry work and tunneling. Crystalline silica has been classified as a human lung carcinogen. Additionally, breathing crystalline silica dust can cause silicosis, which in severe cases can be disabling, or even fatal."

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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