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Silicosis: A Silent Killer [EPW July 2017]

An estimated 3 to 10 million workers in India are affected by silicosis. Yet, it is not treated with the kind of attention it deserves. Occupational diseases like silicosis have been neglected for too long.
By IT's QoM Squade
July 31, 2017


  • What is Silicoses?
  • Types of silicosis
  • Who infect the most?
  • Why it is a silent killer?
  • Why in news?
  • What are the concerns?
  • What need to be done?
  • Conclusion

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What is Silicoses?

  • Silicosis is the lung disease caused by the breathing of silica dust particles.
  • Silica dust is the major constituent of sand. It is found in most rock beds.
  • Silica dust mostly forms while mining, quarrying, tunneling and working with certain metal ores.


Types of silicosis

  • Chronic silicosis – This disease occurs due to long term exposure with low amount of silica dust. It causes swelling in the lungs and chest lymph nodes. Its major symptom is trouble in breathing. This is the most common form of silicosis.
  • Accelerated silicosis – This disease occurs because of the exposure to larger amount of silica for a long period of time. Its symptoms occur faster than in simple silicosis.
  • Acute silicosis – Acute silicosis occurs from short term exposure to very large amount of silica. It results in highly inflamed lungs with fluid which causing severe shortness of breathe and a low blood oxygen level.

ias toppers Silicosis


Who infect the most?

People who do jobs in

  • Abrasives manufacturing
  • Glass manufacturing
  • Mining
  • Quarrying
  • Road and building construction
  • Sand blasting
  • Stone cutting


Why it is a silent killer?

  • The dust particles of silica are aroma less
  • Silicosis disease is asymptomatic.
  • Silicosis is an incurable disease.
  • People with silicosis are at high risk of developing tuberculosis (TB).

ias-toppers-IAS Magazine Silicosis-info

 Why in news?

  • Recently the labor court of Odisha decided to compensate 46 Lakhs to the 16 families who lost their main bread earners working in mining and industries because of silicosis.
  • The Supreme Court gave judgment to pay 7.14cr to the families of the 238 workers of Madhya Pradesh, working in Gujarat to the Gujarat government who died because of silicosis.
  • The judgment of Supreme Court and Odisha Court ought to prod state governments to pay heed to this health crisis that victimize only the poor people.


What are the concerns?

  • The factories did not invest in any protective gear for the workers though they worked in deadly dust haze. Neither they provide any medical facilities nor they look to the place of work.
  • With no system to monitor the state of their health, there was no evidence that their medical condition was directly related to their place of work.
  • Silicosis is one among several occupational diseases that is recognized under the Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948 and the Workmen’s Compensation Act (1923). But these and other laws, such as the Factories Act, 1948 and the Mines Act, 1952 only benefit those workers who are part of the formal organised sector.
  • The majority of people exposed to such hazards are in the informal sector where they cannot bargain either for better wages or for safe work conditions.
  • Diseases like silicosis are often mistaken for tuberculosis, a treatable condition. When a worker dies of silicosis, it is virtually impossible to certify this as the cause of death. As a result, the data on silicosis deaths, and a number of other occupational diseases like pneumoconiosis, the “black lung” disease that afflicts coal miners, or asbestosis, classified as a killer in the Factories Act or byssinosis that affects textile workers exposed to cotton dust, are gross underestimates.


What need to be done?

  • To make it mandatory for industries, where workers are exposed to hazardous substances, to implement safety measures.
  • These include not just safety gear for every worker but also using methods of extraction that reduce the quantum of dust generated.
  • To make it mandatory for all workers thus exposed to go through regular health check-ups and monitoring as it recognises that silicosis, for instance, manifests itself over a long period of time following exposure.
  • The only way to prevent the disease is to limit exposure to the hazardous particles.



  • Probably 3 to 10 million workers in India are affected by this disease. Unluckily like so many other issues of welfare are most vulnerable in India, the provisions of welfare laws also remains on paper and hardly enforced.


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