Silicosis still an occupational disease in Turkey
Mesude Erşan – ISTANBUL
Although the practice of sandblasting denim jeans has long been banned in Turkey, silicosis continues to be an occupational health hazard in the country as workers in various industries are still being exposed to silica dust.
One victim of this disease is Mustafa Topsakal, a 38 year-old Istanbul resident who worked for many years in enterprises manufacturing hardware, steel, Teflon, and kitchenware. About eight years ago, Topsakal’s health deteriorated to the point where he could no longer work.
Daily Hürriyet visited Topsakal in his parents’ house in the Başakşehir district, where he was seen with severe symptoms of coughing and tiredness.
“I worked, at intervals, on the sandblasting process of steel and Teflon pans… I did this job for four years… I did not even have a mask while working. I did not know such substances could harm my health,” Topksakal said.
If you work in a job that exposes you to silica dust, your employer must, by law, give you the correct equipment and clothing you need to protect yourself.
Sandblasting is commonly used to abrade glass and metal.
Topksakal said he has not so far sued any former employer over his illness. “It is expensive to file a lawsuit. Against whom should I open a lawsuit, and even if I did, would I even win?” he said.
Mehmet Boşnak, 43, has also suffered from symptoms of exposure to silica dust. “I was sandblasting glass for five years. I worked every day of the week, from 10 to 12 hours. The workplace did not have any ventilation, it was closed everywhere. A bug could not even live there. We were given a paper mask once a month,” Boşnak told daily Hürriyet.
Prof. Dr. Zeki Kılıçaslan, from the Department of Chest Diseases at Istanbul Medical Faculty, said around 400-500 occupational diseases were recorded in Turkey per year, according to data received from the Social Security Institution (SGK).
“90 percent of cases consist of silicosis and similar illnesses. But we know the actual figure is much higher… In almost all Western countries, sandblasting has been banned. In some countries, it is permitted but under very special circumstances (outdoors, appropriate clothing, etc.) In Turkey, on the other hand, only sandblasting denim has been banned. The ban should also cover other areas,” Kılıçaslan said.
A total of 839 people were diagnosed with silicosis between 2007 and 2016 at the Istanbul Occupational Diseases Hospital. Only three of these patients were women. The most common complaint among the patients was shortness of breath.