Silica is a common naturally occurring mineral. Examples of silica materials are glass, sand, and granite. When working with certain types of silica, dust particles in the air can lodge deep in the lungs – causing significant health risks. Airborne silica particles in the railroad industry are a known cause of silicosis, a chronic disease of the lungs.
If a doctor has diagnosed you or a loved one with silicosis or another condition related to inhaling silica after working on a railroad, contact Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers. Our FELA attorneys can help you understand your rights and legal opportunities during a free consultation.
What is Silica?
The two types of silica are crystalline and non-crystalline. Crystalline is much more hazardous to humans than non-crystalline silica. Crystalline silica is naturally present in many different types of stone and rock materials, including quartz, sand, granite, clay, and gravel. Non-crystalline silica occurs in materials such as glass and silicone. Silica is similar to asbestos in that it only becomes a health risk when airborne. When workers crush stones and drill rocks during railroad construction, silica dust can form.
If railroad workers inhale silica particles that become airborne (or silica dust), the particles can travel deep within the lungs. Silica dust acts as an irritant in the lung, creating scar tissue that then traps the silica particles in the lungs. Over time, the scar tissues can form nodules in the lungs, which may affect the ability to breathe. This is a condition called silicosis.
The Dangers of Silica Dust
It is important to protect your respiratory system as a railroad worker in Illinois. Breathing in silica dust on the job, even in small quantities, can cause long-term lung problems and life-threatening complications. Silica dust can irritate the lungs and ultimately cause incurable diseases – the most common of which is silicosis.
Silicosis is a serious chronic lung disease. It is a fibrotic condition with no known cure. The symptoms of silicosis can include trouble breathing, sharp chest pain, coughing, phlegm production, wheezing, and fever. Over time, silicosis can progress to cause complications such as increased breathing rate, loss of blood circulation, and leg swelling. Symptoms may appear within a few weeks of breathing in silica dust, or it may take years post-exposure for nodules to become noticeable.
Diagnosing silicosis often takes breathing tests, CT scans of the chest, and a lung tissue biopsy. There is unfortunately no known cure for silicosis. However, treatments such as oxygen, medications, and a lung transplant could improve quality of life and life expectancy. Silicosis can be fatal in severe cases. Silicosis can also increase a person’s risk of suffering other conditions, such as tuberculosis and lung cancer. Other possible health risks of silica dust exposure include autoimmune diseases and kidney disease.
Employer Responsibilities to Railroad Workers
It is your employer’s legal responsibility to equip you with the proper protective gear to reasonably prevent silica dust inhalation and exposure. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces safety guidelines and protocols for dealing with silica in the workplace. OSHA’s standards (found in section 1926.1153) require all employers in the U.S. to take steps to protect railroad workers from exposure, including:
- Analyzing the workplace and determining the degree of silica exposure risk to workers.
- Implementing tools with systems that decrease airborne silica, such as saws that feed water to the blade.
- Using a vacuum dust collection system to capture silica particles before they can become airborne.
- Providing federally approved respirators to all railroad workers at risk of silica dust inhalation.
OSHA requires that all employers implement written silica exposure control plans that identify what methods the employer will use to increase the safety of the workspace and protect workers. The first step should be to decrease the risk of exposure in the work zone. If this does not bring silica levels down enough, employers must then provide personal protective gear to workers.
Your Options After Harmful Silica Exposure
If you suffered exposure to silica dust while working on a railroad, your employer may be legally responsible for your damages. It was your employer’s duty to reasonably prevent harmful exposure to silica dust at work. If your employer negligently failed to fulfill this duty, resulting in your silicosis or other health problem, you may have a personal injury claim against the employer. A personal injury claim is not the same as workers’ compensation.
Workers’ compensation in Illinois is a right must workers have after any type of injury or illness on the job – whether your employer is to blame or not. Railroad workers, however, cannot receive workers’ comp. Instead, they may file claims under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). FELA states that a railroad employer will be liable for damages if the employee can prove the employer’s negligence caused the injury. FELA provides more extensive types of recovery than workers’ compensation, but it puts a burden of proof on the injured employee.
It is important to speak to an attorney if you believe you have a FELA claim. A personal injury lawsuit for job-related silicosis can be complicated without help from a lawyer. Although FELA laws favor employees, you must still prove that your employer is responsible for your damages through an act of negligence, such as failing to provide proper protective gear. A lawyer can walk you through the claims process in Illinois, from collecting evidence against your employer to proving damages.
Damages Available in a Silicosis FELA Claim
If you have reason to suspect your employer reasonably should have done more to prevent your illness, speak to an attorney before starting the FELA claim process. A lawyer can ensure no one takes advantage of you during your claim. Your attorney will fight for the maximum compensation possible. A lawsuit could provide compensation for all the following damages:
- Past and future medical expenses. This can include all silica-related surgeries, transplants, hospital stays, doctor’s appointments, travel expenses, prescriptions, therapies, and treatments.
- Disability expenses. If silicosis leads to a permanent disability, such as having to use an oxygen tank to breathe, you could recover compensation for the costs of medical equipment, nursing care, and more.
- Lost wages. You could recover 100% of your past lost wages related to your illness or injury, not just two thirds. You could also seek recovery for future potential earnings if exposure to silica prevents you from returning to your job.
- Pain and suffering. A personal injury lawsuit could result in noneconomic damages for your physical pain, emotional suffering, distress, and mental anguish – as well as lost quality of life because of silicosis.
- Punitive damages. A judge may award punitive damages if he or she believes compensatory damages are not enough to make up for the victim’s suffering. Punitive damages punish the defendant for gross negligence or wrongful actions.
If you lost a loved one because of exposure to silica in the railroad industry, your family could receive payment for your loved one’s losses as well as those to the family and estate. Wrongful death damages may pay for funeral and burial costs, lost inheritance, and mental anguish in Illinois.
Contact Us Today
The value of your individual claim is unique. You deserve assistance from attorneys with experience handling railroad worker injury claims in Illinois. Contact us today for an accurate and honest evaluation of your specific situation during a free meeting at our Chicago firm.