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Scleroderma: silently affecting stonemasons

Aching and swollen joints, muscle weakness, numb fingers or toes, digestive issues - these are just some of the symptoms of a rare, but very debilitating disease known as scleroderma. An autoimmune disease, scleroderma is not often seen or talked about, but tragically there has been a rise in seemingly young, active, healthy men. The one common factor with these young men is exposure to silica, which is found in many industries including mining, brick manufacture and also amongst stonemasons from the cutting of engineered or fabricated stone.

While silicosis has in recent years become widely known as a lethal danger to stonemasons who’ve been exposed to high levels of silica from engineered stone, scleroderma has barely received a mention. This means that many stonemasons who are suffering may not even realise what they’re suffering from and how it occurred.

What is scleroderma?

Meaning ‘hard skin’, slceroderma affects the connective tissues in the body that holds together skin, joints, blood vessels, digestive tract and organs. An autoimmune response causes excessive production of collagen that in turn causes the connective tissue to harden and thicken. In severe cases, scleroderma that affects vital organs, such as the heart, lungs and kidneys, can become life threatening.

As a lot of the common symptoms can easily be dismissed as something else, it’s easy to avoid a doctor's visit or for a doctor to overlook a diagnosis of scleroderma. It’s advised that if you’re a stonemason who has cut engineered stone or someone who has worked closely with silica and you’re suffering from some of the symptoms, you should seek medical advice.

Symptoms of scleroderma include:

  • Hardening and tight patches of skin. This can occur all over the body and the skin can sometimes appear ‘shiny’ and movement can be restricted.
  • Fingers and toes can feel numb, turn blue or become painful.
  • Heartburn, diahoerra, bloating or constipation
  • Painful and aching joints
  • Red spots on the body

While there is currently no cure for scleroderma, it’s important that the condition is managed by a doctor. They can advise of pain medicine, treatments and lifestyle changes that can be helpful.

Getting help

As scleroderma can be debilitating, there is a chance that your ability to work may be affected. If you have developed scleroderma through exposure to silica you may be able to claim for compensation from your employer or potentially manufacturers or suppliers of the engineered stone. This will help cover for loss of income and medical bills.

Roger Singh of Shine Lawyers, who has been representing workers suffering from scleroderma in their claims for compensation and lobbying parliament for safer workplaces, says: “It’s devastating to see this disease emerging amongst Australian workers through no fault of their own but due to the negligence of employers and, in some cases, suppliers of engineered stone. There is an urgent need for work places to take immediate action to safeguard workers from silica exposure. We are calling on states and territories to ensure urgent measures are taken to create safer worker places”

Shine Lawyers - we're here to help

Shine Lawyers are experts in dust disease related compensation claims including for scleroderma. If you or a loved one is suffering from a dust-related disease, please contact our team today to find out if you have a claim and how we may be able to help you get the compensation you deserve.

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: June 27, 2019.

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