September 28, 2023

OSHA Targets Silica Exposures from Engineered Stone Fabrication, Installation

A new initiative will bring OSHA’s enforcement and compliance mechanisms to bear on employers in the engineered stone fabrication and installation industries. The goal of the initiative, as described in a memo to the agency’s regional administrators, is to identify hazards and ensure prompt abatement in the targeted industries, where workers are potentially exposed to high levels of silica dust.

The initiative follows reports of silicosis among fabricators and installers of engineered stone countertops. Manufactured primarily from quartz rock, engineered stone is lighter than products made from natural stone such as granite or marble, and production costs are lower. Engineered stone can contain as much as 90 percent crystalline silica content, far higher than the 10 to 45 percent typical with granite.

Workers in the engineered stone industry who are afflicted with silicosis are relatively young. Research published by JAMA Internal Medicine in July describes a study of 52 silicosis patients among engineered stone workers in California whose median age was 45. Twenty of these patients had progressive massive fibrosis, the most severe form of the disease. Of the ten who passed away, the median age at death was 46. California is currently considering an emergency temporary standard to address the problem.

Another study, published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine, of 169 engineered stone workers found that a third had progressive massive fibrosis. Nearly 20 percent of those with severe disease had ten or fewer years of experience in the industry.

In addition to the United States, cases of silicosis among engineered stone fabricators and installers have been identified in Israel, Spain, and Australia. News reports indicate that the Australian government is considering a ban on products made from engineered stone.

The OSHA memo applies to regions 1 through 8, essentially the entire country east of Idaho, Nevada, and Arizona. These regions have the highest concentration of establishments in the targeted industries, according to OSHA. Each of the agency’s local offices in these regions is required to conduct at least five inspections of engineered stone fabrication and installation establishments over the next 12 months.

For more information, refer to the OSHA memo and related news release.

Related: A recent SynergistNOW blog post discussed silica exposures among engineered stone workers.