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Lawmakers must release safe work Australia report and implement engineered stone ban

26 October 2023

Toxic exposure, silica and dust diseases

A stonemason with silicosis, a deadly lung disease caused by exposure to toxic dust, says politicians must follow Australia's workplace safety watchdog's advice and ban engineered stone.

State, territory, and federal ministers will today meet to decide whether to make public a report by Safe Work Australia, which is understood to recommend a ban, warning there is no safe level of silica dust exposure.

Beau Hull from the New South Wales Central Coast was diagnosed with silicosis in March last year and immediately left his job as the conditions in the workplace were dangerous. "It was disgusting having the dust all over you, you could smell it on you, you were breathing it in, you could feel it on your teeth, and you were bringing it home," Hull said.

Beau Hull pictured outside his home

The 36-year-old's symptoms are slowly worsening, making it difficult to continue surfing, playing football, walking the dogs, and engaging with his kids. The disease is also taking a toll on his mental health.

“I'm a very active person and I'm just starting to notice I'm getting tired a lot quicker and the activities I used to love doing just seem like they're decreasing," Hull said.

“It's killing me at the moment. It's really getting to me, just thinking about it all the time, not knowing what's going to happen."

According to the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, the Safe Work Australia report calls for a ban on engineered stone, something Hull supports.

"I think it should be banned for sure. If it's only making people sick, why continue making it?"

Roger Singh, who runs the dust diseases litigation practice at Shine Lawyers, said the time for talk is over and the report must be made public.

"Too much time has passed since the engineered stone issue was brought to light," Singh said.

“The time for words, investigation, and debate is over and I urge all workplace health and safety ministers to take immediate action to bring the ban to effect,"

“Every hour of every day that is allowed to pass will mean yet more tradies being exposed to toxic dust and potentially developing deadly lung diseases."

Roger Singh

Singh has represented countless workers around the country who have been diagnosed with silicosis and have had their life expectancy cut short. Some require lung transplants to survive.

In 2021, Singh won the Australian Lawyers Alliance's national civil justice award for his pioneering work securing compensation for tradies who developed autoimmune diseases like scleroderma and lupus through exposure to silica dust.

"As long ago as 2018, I sounded the alarm about silica-related diseases among stonemasons and I've been lobbying governments at all levels to regulate this toxic product ever since, including through a ban on engineered stone," Singh said.

"For years, we have known about the dangers of toxic silica dust but next to nothing was done to eliminate the risk to the health and safety of workers," he said.

"Nobody should be allowed to die just so consumers can have cheap imitation marble bench tops in their kitchens and bathrooms."

Roger Singh is available for interviews.

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