Silica Exposure Training for the Cut Stone Industry
In 2019, members of the Georgia Tech Safety, Health, Environmental Services (SHES) Industrial Hygiene team noticed silica exposure levels being reported were extremely high during regular exposure assessment visits among quartz countertop (engineered stone) fabrication workers in manufacturing plants, even when preventative controls were being used. This corresponded with the 2019 CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) that reported eighteen cases of silicosis, including two fatalities, among stone fabrication workers in four states. Silicosis is an incurable occupational lung disease caused by inhaling particles of respirable crystalline silica. These particles trigger inflammation and fibrosis in the lungs, leading to progressive, irreversible, and potentially disabling disease. Silica exposure is also associated with increased risk for lung infection, lung cancer, emphysema, and other illnesses. Because quartz, a type of mineral that contains high levels of respirable crystalline silica, workers who cut, polish, or grind stone materials can be exposed to extremely high levels of silica dust.
“Since reporting cases of silicosis is not required in the State of Georgia, there is no surveillance method or way to track the number of cases or deaths, so it was important that we try and find a way prevent the exposure,” stated Jenny Houlroyd, manager of the Occupational Health Services team at Georgia Tech, who led the initiative to apply for OSHA funding to support this training effort through a Susan Hardwood Grant.
The grant was approved in 2021 and the team launched into action to gather more information. Houlroyd, joined by Principal Investigator Brandon Philpot:
- Conducted focus groups with different stakeholders, including researchers from the MMWR report, the California Department of Health, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
- Surveyed several OSHA 21(d) Consultation Program companies they had previously worked with
- Contacted multiple countertop manufacturers in Georgia
After analyzing the data, Houlroyd worked with her team to develop the modules and videos for this free training, which is now available through the group’s consultation services and housed on their YouTube Channel.
To date, the program has:
- Trained 41 people, through in-person classes/online allowing employers to administer the class to their employees
- Created English and Spanish versions of the materials
- Sent flash drives to interested companies of the materials which includes an instructor guide, PowerPoint slides, and documentation that they can customize for their company
- Helped over eight companies (and counting) to implement safety measures such as safety checklists, proper PPE, and much more
Through this process, Houlroyd and Philpot heard first-hand about the dangers of working with engineered stone. “Consumers should be aware of the impact their choices make on the person manufacturing the product,” said Houlroyd, “fabricators are doing the most hazardous part of the cutting process, and because symptoms are hard to diagnose, it’s difficult for doctors to connect the dots.”
Watch their emotional discussion with Ever, a countertop fabricator, who has silicosis in this video Stop Silicosis For Ever.