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California Adopts Emergency Rules as Response to Silicosis

December 19, 2023 | Employment Law

This week, California enacted emergency rules to protect workers from incurable silicosis. The increasing popularity of engineered stone products and lack of adherence to safeguards has the potential to create an epidemic among young laborers. The disease is absolutely devastating and striking a younger population than previously seen. In many cases, a lung transplant is required for survival; many die on the waiting list.


A recent study by UCLA and UCSF physicians found that among dozens of California workers who got silicosis from grinding countertops, nearly a fifth had died. Their median age at death was 46. More than half had suffered delays in getting diagnosed, as the disease was mistaken for bacterial pneumonia or tuberculosis, and over a third already had severe scarring in their lungs when they were diagnosed.

Silicosis has been documented for centuries among stonecutters. But the high silica content of engineered stone is linked to a more aggressive form of the disease. 


Engineered stone products have grown in popularity in recent decades because they are easy to clean, resistant to stains and often cheaper than natural stone. 


 An international group representing manufacturers of engineered stone, the Agglomerated Stone Manufacturers Assn., maintains its products can be cut “with no safety issues or health hazards if it is performed according to the best practices.” The association said the risk lies with poor adherence to safety measures by fabricators, stating that safety regulations must be “simplified and rigorously enforced.” Members of the Stone Coalition, which represents fabricators as well as manufacturers, argued for additional enforcement and training on workplace safety, especially efforts to eliminate “dry cutting.”

Existing safety standards must be followed, but “we feel that there need to be additional changes to the standards to make it even more safe in the workplace,” said Dr. Nichole Quick, deputy director of health protection with the L.A. County public health department.

Los Angeles County has been an epicenter of the debilitating disease.

Dr. Jane Fazio, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center told the state board tasked with considering workplace safety rules, “I’ve witnessed this disease deteriorate their bodies, turning able-bodied 20- and 30-year-old men into skeletons. I’ve witnessed them waste away and die horrible deaths on life support while waiting for lung transplants.”


Western Occupational and Environmental Medicine Assn. petitioned for emergency protections. Dr. Robert C. Blink, a physician there, said, “We have never seen something — at least in my lifetime — develop so rapidly. Something really needed to be done. … It’s a toxic epidemic.”

One question faced by government regulators across the globe — is whether any safeguards will effectively protect workers grinding materials so high in silica.

Cal/OSHA is considering a state ban on the use of engineered stone.


Australia moved to band engineered stone this week. The details will be finalized in March 2024.


If you or a loved one are suffering due to unsafe practices in the workplace,  contact us online, or call (310) 432-0000. Our team has over 20 years of experience in representing only employees in cases against their employers. We are confident trial lawyers who will not hesitate to aggressively represent you in court.