On Wednesday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) jointly issued a hazard alert about protecting workers from crystalline silica exposure in the manufacture, finish and installation of natural and engineered stone countertops.

The two agencies investigated U.S. worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica in the stone countertop industry following reports from other countries of stone countertop workers developing silicosis – an incurable, progressively disabling and sometimes fatal lung disease.

While the stone industry in the U.S. has worked to implement dust controls to protect workers against the dangers of silica exposure, studies and OSHA inspections indicate that exposure levels may not be adequately controlled in some stone countertop fabrication worksites in the U.S.

The alert addresses the health effects related to breathing in silica dust, recommends ways to protect workers, and describes how OSHA and NIOSH can help employers reduce silica dust exposures.

This includes monitoring the air to determine silica exposure levels; using engineering controls and safe work practices to control dust exposure; making respiratory protection available when needed; and providing training and information about the hazards of silica.

Crystalline silica is found in granite, sandstone, quartzite, various other rocks and sand. Workers who inhale silica particles are at risk for silicosis. Symptoms of silicosis can include shortness of breath, cough and fatigue, and may or may not be obviously attributable to silica. Workers exposed to airborne crystalline silica also are at increased risk for lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease.

For more information on OSHA’s silica rulemaking and your Home Builders Association’s involvement, visit nahb.org/silica. For a quick reference guide on silica safety, check out your HBA’s Silica Safety Cards, available for download in English and Spanish.