New York workers who are employed in the stone cutting or rock drilling industries should be aware that the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration will reportedly be finalizing a new rule in February 2016 that would reduce the amount of exposure workers could have to silica dust. Workers who are exposed to this harmful material are at risk for silicosis, a serious and incurable lung disease that could be deadly.

The World Health Organization has also considered silica to be a carcinogen since 1997. Respirable silica, or silica that could be breathed in, has been considered to be a carcinogen by the U.S. National Toxicology Program since 2000. In addition to causing lung cancer, silica exposure can also result in the formation of scar tissue and other lung disorders.

OSHA stated that nearly 2 million workers are at risk for silica exposure in the U.S. With the new rules, nearly 700 lives are expected to be saved and up to 1,600 new cases of silicosis are expected to be prevented each year. The rules were also expected to be financially beneficial by saving between $2.8 to $4.7 billion every year. However, there have been several attempts by affected industries to prevent the rule from going into effect.

A worker who was exposed to silica dust and developed lung disorders or cancer as a result may be eligible to file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits under the employer’s insurance policy. However, since the symptoms of such an occupational disease might take a long time to manifest, it would not be unusual for the employer or insurer to dispute it. In such an event, an attorney can often be of assistance to such a worker by gathering and presenting the appropriate medical documentation in a subsequent appeals hearing.