People Caring for People

Silicosis Risk for WV Oil and Gas Drilling Workers

In May of 2012, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released a study which outlined concerns for the safety and health of those employed by oil and gas drilling companies who may be at risk for silicosis. Large quantities of silica sand are used during hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process.

Hydraulic fracturing, or hydro-fracking is a technology used in West Virginia in which drillers inject huge amounts of water and chemicals into shale layers that hold natural gas and oil. The high pressure breaks the rock, and then silica sand and other chemicals are injected in the cracks to allow the natural gas to be piped to the surface.

Sand is delivered by truck and loaded into sand movers and then transferred to conveyor belts. In the course of this process, silica dust is released into the air, causing a hazard to those employees involved in transporting and refilling silica sand into the sand movers, transfer belts, and blender hoppers where the sand is mixed with fracking fluids. NIOSH collected air samples at eleven hydraulic fracturing sites in five states, and many of these air samples showed silica levels which were above the level assumed to be safe for gas drilling workers.

What is Silicosis?

Silica particles are about one-twentieth of the width of a human hair and are a known carcinogenic. Silicosis is a form of respiratory disease that results from inhaling silica dust. The microscopic fibers build up in the lung tissue, causing severe inflammation and scarring. Like similar toxic exposure diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis, silicosis often takes many years to develop into fatal respiratory symptoms. Chronic silicosis initially causes no symptoms, but symptoms may surface as long as fifteen to twenty years after silica dust exposure.

How Can I Reduce the Risk of Silicosis?

According to the American Lung Association, recommendations for protecting your health and the health of your employees include:

  • Know what causes silica dust at your workplace.
  • Remember, even if you cannot see dust, you can still be at risk from silica.
  • If there is visible dust, you are almost definitely at risk.
  • If you use a tight-fitting respirator for your particular work, you cannot have a beard or mustache. Beards and mustaches keep the respirator from sealing to your face.
  • Go to lung screenings and other health programs offered at work.

Practice good personal hygiene at the workplace:

  • Do not eat, drink, or use tobacco products in dusty areas.
  • If you smoke, do not smoke in dusty areas, and always wash your hands and face outside dusty areas before smoking. Wash hands and face outside dusty areas before eating or drinking.
  • Park your car in an area where it won’t be contaminated with silica.
  • At work, change into disposable or washable work clothes.
  • If possible, shower and change into clean clothes before leaving the worksite. This will prevent you from bringing silica into other work areas, your car and your home-and exposing your family and other people to silica. Always remember that when you wear dusty clothing in your car, at home, or anywhere outside of your worksite, you may be exposing your family to potentially deadly silica!

Common symptoms of silicosis include:

  • shortness of breath
  • severe cough
  • weakness
  • Severe cough

If you have silica in your lungs, your body may not be able to fight infections well. This can lead to other illnesses that can cause:

  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Night sweats
  • Chest pains
  • Respiratory failure

As the disease progresses over time, these symptoms can become worse.

If you have been diagnosed with silicosis, or a loved one has died of silicosis after years of exposure on the job, you are entitled to seek compensation from the product manufacturer or company responsible for providing a safe workplace. The Robinette Legal Group has a proud record of successfully representing clients who have suffered occupational diseases after working in the mining, manufacturing and materials handling industries throughout West Virginia. Contact our offices to arrange a free consultation about your toxic exposure injury or wrongful death claim: 1-304-594-1800.