Can I Recover Damages From Drywall Dust in Pennsylvania?
Workers who suffer long-term symptoms or illness due to drywall exposure on the job may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits to cover medical expenses and partial lost wages. Typically, employees cannot hold an employer legally responsible for an illness because of workers’ compensation insurance. Still, there are some cases when an employer or a third party could be liable for damages.
The Dangers of Breathing in Drywall Dust
When workers breathe in high concentrations of drywall dust, they may experience persistent irritation in their throat and airway, coughing, phlegm, and breathing difficulties similar to asthma. In addition, if the drywall contains hazardous compounds such as silica or asbestos, workers are also at an increased risk of severe illnesses, such as silicosis (a lung disease), mesothelioma, or lung cancer. The health consequences and injuries suffered can be exacerbated in workers who smoke or already have respiratory or sinus problems.
Exposure to Drywall Dust From Employer
Employers in various industries are required to establish safety measures to prevent exposure to high concentrations of drywall dust. As a result, any worker who grinds, drills, sands, or does other work that creates dust needs special protections. If you suffer an illness because of drywall dust, you can file a workers’ compensation claim. However, you may also be able to sue your employer if:
- Your employer willfully violated OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) guidelines;
- Failed to act when multiple employees were falling ill;
- Fraudulently concealed workers’ illnesses, and the illnesses worsened because of the concealment; or,
- Your employer does not carry workers’ compensation insurance as required by state law.
Determining whether one of these exceptions applies to your case will require an evaluation by a Scranton Work Injury Attorney. Additionally, you may also be able to file a lawsuit against a third party that intentionally or negligently contributed to causing your illness.
How To Stay Safe From Drywall Dust
The following safety measures can help workers avoid the harmful effects of drywall dust.
- Proper use of personal protective clothing and equipment, such as masks and glasses. When respiratory protection is worn, it is often misused due to a lack of training or little thought to proper selection or fit.
- Use wet sanding when possible.
- Safe dust collection methods, such as standalone equipment or tools with built-in vacuums that collect dust at the source rather than sweeping. (drywall silica dust should never be swept)
- Use barriers to isolate spaces that involve cutting and sanding.
- Use pole sanders to increase the space between workers and the sanding surface, which reduces their exposure to dust.
- Silica dust collector systems must be equipped with an OSHA-approved HEPA filter vacuum to maximize dust control.
- Educate drywall installers and demolition crews about the risks of drywall dust.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) completed a study of several sanding systems in 1994. The data found that five commercially available vacuum sanding controls reduced dust exposures by 80% to 97%. Since then, there are more options for drywall sanding controls that cut dust exposure.