The installation and repair of drywall is an important part of home and commercial construction and renovation. Unfortunately the drywall and joint compound used with it contain toxic substances that workers may not even be aware of. Exposure to these substances on a short-term and long-term basis can cause drywall installers and other workers to develop serious health conditions—some life-threatening.
Why Drywall Dust Endangers Workers
When workers install or replace a piece of drywall, they use joint compound—also referred to as mud—to fill in the seams. Once the compound dries, it is sanded down to create a seamless, smooth wall to be painted. When the drywall compound is sanded, tiny particles of drywall and drywall dust are released into the air. These particles can contain gypsum, talc, mica, silica, and calcite, which can cause health problem when inhaled. When removing drywall in older homes and buildings that were constructed prior to the 1980s, workers may also be exposed to dangerous asbestos dust.
Drywall installers, drywall tapers, and other nearby workers can all be exposed to drywall dust when sanding is being performed. Some of the health hazards include:
- Eye irritation
- Skin irritation
- Difficulty breathing
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other more serious respiratory problems
- Silicosis—a long-term lung disease
- Lung cancer
- Kidney disease
What Is Silicosis?
Silicosis is a potentially fatal lung disease caused by exposure to silica that often develops over time and becomes progressively worse. It can take anywhere from five to thirty years after a worker’s exposure to develop this debilitating disease. Symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath with any exertion
- Severe coughing
- Loss of appetite
- Chest pain
- Increased production of mucous
There is no cure for silicosis except for a lung/heart transplant. Much of the current treatment involves trying to slow the progression of the disease and the scarring of lung tissue. This can include the use of bronchodilators, antibiotics, and oxygen therapy. Workers who develop silicosis are also at higher risk of contracting tuberculosis and should be regularly tested for this.
New Regulations to Protect Drywall Installers From Silica Exposure
Many workers other than drywall installers are exposed to dangerous silica dust. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that 2.3 million workers in the Unites States are exposed to silica dust and has implemented new regulations to protect workers from exposure to this toxic substance. The regulations for the construction industry went into effect on September 23, 2017, and the rules for the general industry and maritime will be effective on June 18, 2018. It is unclear how vigorously these rules will be enforced. Some key components include:
- The allowable level of exposure to silica dust is slashed by approximately 80 percent.
- Workers must be provided with appropriate respiratory safety gear.
- Employers must use water and vacuum dust collection, isolation of dusty areas, or ventilation to reduce workers’ exposure to silica dust.
- Employers are required to establish and implement a written exposure control plan with specific tasks that risk exposure and ways to protect workers outlined.
- A trained individual should be appointed to implement the plan.
- Workers should be trained in the dangers of silica dust and ways to avoid it.
- Workers should be offered medical exams that include a chest X-ray every two years.
How Workers’ Compensation Can Help If You Suffer an Illness Caused by Drywall Dust Exposure
Workers’ compensation benefits in New Jersey cover workplace accidents and occupational illnesses. If you developed a medical condition due to your exposure to drywall dust at your job, you could be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. However, you will need the help of an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to prove that your illness was caused by your job—more challenging because it could develop over time. In addition, if you developed a serious disease, the value of your claim could be larger than some accident claims. As a result, you may need to fight harder and longer to obtain a fair settlement of your claim.
I have been helping injured workers in New Jersey fight for the benefits they deserved for over 20 years. Call my office today to schedule your free consultation to discuss your rights under workers’ comp laws and how I will fight for the benefits you need and deserve.