In a recent post, I wrote about a multi-million dollar settlement Michaels & Smolak recently achieved for a Syracuse area victim of occupational lung disease. I attached to that post a video-clip about one of the most common types of occupational lung disease, silicosis, an incurable, potentially deadly, and progressive disease. Silicosis is caused by the inhalation of silica, which is found naturally in sand and many rocks, and which, when blasted or sanded, becomes airborne. Silicosis and other work-related lung diseases are all too common in Syracuse, Auburn, Buffalo and other aging industrial cities.
Today the Clarion Ledger (a Mississippi Newspaper) reports that a victim of silicosis was awarded 7.6 million dollars in the first silicosis case to go to a jury in Mississippi. The injured worker developed silicosis from 25 years of sandblasting without proper protection from the dangerous dust that engulfed him on a daily basis.
So what did the defendant, Mississippi Valley Silica Co., do wrong? Apparently just about everything. The jury heard substantial proof that the company knew that the abrasive-blasting of sand without proper protection was likely to cause silicosis. They knew, or should have known, that proper protection would not have been complicated or costly. Yet they did nothing or next to nothing about it.
In fact, Silicosis and other occupational lung diseases can be quite easily avoided. Here are some steps employers and others can take to protect their workers from silicosis:
• Minimize dust production around work areas.
• Install exhaust ventilation.
• Install blast-cleaning machines to prevent dust from being released into the air.
• Train and teach workers about silica dust, silicosis and good work practices to reduce dust and the inhalation of dust.
• Wet down surfaces to avoid producing dust.
• Use vacuums with high-efficiency particle filters.
• Have workers wear respirators in dust-prone areas.
• Wet-sweep for clean-up.
• Avoid dry sweeping or blowing dust with compressed air.
Silicosis, and the ways of preventing it, have been well known for many years, as this 1936 U.S. Department of Labor film shows:
Sure, these safety measures have a cost. And yes, employers and others too often cut such costs to make way for fatter profit margins. But trial lawyers, such as the ones who won this lawsuit in Mississippi, make employers realize that NOT implementing such safety measures may, in the end, cost more than implementing them. So let’s hear it for us trial lawyers!