Published On: Wed, Jul 6th, 2022

Why Are Construction Workers Highly Prone to Silicosis Disease?

Silica dust is a common feature around a construction site. Because of this, medical experts say construction workers have a higher incidence of silicosis. Let’s examine what is meant by silicosis and how this condition is diagnosed and treated. 

photo/ Skeeze via pixabay

What Is Silica Dust?

Silica dust is defined as a crystalline substance that is found in different types of construction building materials, including brick, mortar, concrete, stone, and sand. When the materials are cut, crushed, or drilled, small particles become airborne. These are referred to as respirable particles and can be drawn into construction workers’ lungs, resulting in silicosis. This condition is frequently deadly. In addition, it can cause other respiratory diseases such as lung cancer.  It has been estimated that approximately two million workers are exposed to silica dust annually. 

The government has designed rules that protect construction workers from silica dust. The number of hours a worker is exposed to silica dust along with a vacuum device to capture the substance or wearing a NIOSH-certified filtering respirator all help reduce exposure. Rules demand that a dust exposure schedule be written and adhered to.


Silicosis falls under the umbrella of three diseases that involve mineral dust. The other diseases in this category are asbestosis and black lung. Silicosis causes lung damage and is officially a fibronodular lung disease. It is also called grinder’s rot or stonemason’s disease and is progressive, worsening with time.

As the silica dust is inhaled, the particles are embedded in the person’s lungs. The lung tissue becomes inflamed and forms a nodule around the embedded silica. Brain injury complications form in consequence. That is why it is called a fibronodular disease. Scarring also occurs around the trapped silica particles. This limits the lungs’ ability to acquire oxygen, leading to shortness of breath. 

There are three types of silicosis:

  • Chronic silicosis: This type of silicosis results from low exposure over 10 to 20 years. The amount of silica that is in the dust is a factor in the disease. Chronic silicosis is also broken down into progressive massive silicosis and simple silicosis. Chronic silicosis is the most common form of this condition.
  • Accelerated silicosis: This is a progressive form of silicosis. It starts five to 10 years after exposure and is associated with high silica concentrations.
  • Acute silicosis: This form of silicosis begins weeks up to five years from exposure. It has the highest amount of silica concentrations. 

Although the survival time from diagnosis to death varies from one person to another, the following is a general approximation:

  • Stage I: The survival time is 21.5 years
  • Stage II: The survival time is 15.8 years
  • Stage III: The survival time is 6.8 years

Note: There are patients who have survived up to 33 years. 

Symptoms of Silicosis

The symptoms of silicosis may emerge early in the disease, although the person may be asymptomatic for a while after exposure. Initially, the person may experience a cough or shortness of breath. In time, the person may feel sharp chest pain, and severe breathlessness and die. Wheezing may be a prominent issue. Other frequent symptoms are:

  • Fatigue 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Continuing cough that progresses and produces sputum
  • Blue color to the skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Crackling in the lung upon examination

Diagnosis of Silicosis

A chest X-ray or CT scan is the best way to diagnose silicosis. Pulmonary function tests are also done to evaluate lung function. The latter is used to see how well your respiratory system is working. Bronchoalveolar lavage may be used to examine the fluid for silicosis. 

Treatment for Silicosis

While there is no treatment for this malady, removing silica exposure is important to limit progression. Medicines that help the person breathe such as bronchodilators or oxygen may help. Since respiratory infections are common in this group, antibiotics are used. Some things you can do to help prevent progression are:

  • Quit smoking
  • Change jobs or use some sort of protective equipment
  • Always get the flu vaccine

Legal Assistance

If you were exposed to silica dust on the job, you have the right to file a claim if you develop silicosis. Fight the corporation that knew about the exposure but did not do anything to stop it.

Author: Victor Brown

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