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Workplace illness can follow exposure to drywall dust

With the new rules related to protection against the dangers of crystalline silica dust that the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health implemented this month, employers in various industries must establish safety measures to prevent exposure over the new limits. Anyone who grinds, drills, sands or does any other work that creates dust are at risk of suffering a workplace illness. Those construction workers who work with dry wall need special protections.

While sanding drywall joint compound, high dust concentrations are emitted -- sometimes containing respirable silica. The ingredients that make up the joint compounds for drywall include calcite, talc, gypsum, mica and silica. Several of these can be associated with causing irritation in workers' eyes, noses, throats and respiratory tracts.

Exposure over time may result in persistent airway and throat irritability, phlegm production, coughing and asthma-like breathing problems. The health consequences can be exacerbated in workers who smoke or have respiratory or sinus problems. The particles of respirable crystalline silica enter the lungs of exposed workers and accumulation can ultimately lead to silicosis or lung cancer.

California workers who have already suffered this type of exposure over years of working with products containing silica may not benefit from the new rules. Although they will be entitled to workers' compensation benefits to cover medical expenses, proving it to be a workplace illness could be challenging. To ease the process, it might be wise for a suffering employee to seek the support and guidance of an experienced workers' compensation attorney to navigate the claims process on his or her behalf.

Source: cdc.gov, "Control of Drywall Sanding Dust Exposures", Sept. 28, 2017

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