As a stonemason, Karl had no idea silica dust rising from the engineered stone he worked with could cost him his health. Now at just 39 years old, Karl suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and silicosis – a progressive, irreversible lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust.
The dangers of engineered stone
Karl links these illnesses to his work with reconstituted or ‘engineered’ stone products, increasingly used for kitchen and bathroom benchtops around Australia. As artificial stone has a very high percentage of silica, workers involved in cutting or grinding the product may be exposed to dangerous levels of the dust. Karl was never informed of the risks, and believes that other stone masons may be in danger.
Silicosis cases on the rise
A permanent and aggressive lung disease, silicosis is caused by exposure to dusts containing crystalline silica. When workers inhale silica, it becomes trapped in the lungs. Over time, the lung tissue reacts by developing fibrotic nodules and scarring, ultimately affecting the sufferer’s ability to breathe. Symptoms include coughing, breathlessness and tiredness. However, in most cases, there are no signs of silicosis until later stages of the disease.
In addition to silicosis, silica exposure has been linked to other illnesses such as lung cancer and kidney disease.
Prevention by workplace health and safety
Alarmingly, diseases due to silica exposure are entirely preventable. Wetting of silica dust, using adequate ventilation systems and wearing appropriate respiratory masks will reduce the chances of breathing in silica dust. Despite this, many workplaces do not have the proper processes in place and are failing to provide workers with adequate protections.
Compensating those affected
Although nothing can undo the harm, workers like Karl who develop dust diseases in the workplace may be entitled to claim compensation to help them access the care, support and treatment required.
If you work with stone benches, or in any other industry that exposes you to materials containing silica, have been diagnosed with silicosis, or simply want more information, contact Shine Lawyers today.
Our team of dust disease specialists can assess your circumstances and provide you with obligation-free advice about any potential entitlements to compensation.
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Written by Shine Lawyers on . Last modified: November 14, 2017.