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Stonemason lawyers welcome ban on engineered stone

27 February 2023

Toxic exposure, silica and dust diseases

A stonemason who was diagnosed with silicosis five years into his career is hoping state and territory governments move quickly to ban engineered stone to prevent other workers from dying of the deadly lung disease. 

Tristan Wilson, a 28-year-old father of two from Melbourne, said the conditions in his workplace were extremely dusty, there was poor ventilation, and he was only given a paper mask to wear if WorkSafe Victoria inspectors were planning to visit. 

Tristan’s condition has since advanced to progressive massive fibrosis, which causes extensive scarring to lung tissue. He is relieved Federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke has today announced the Commonwealth will push the states and territories to ban engineered stone. 

“It might be too late for me, but banning engineered stone is a huge win for stonemasons who are still working in the industry as well as the next generation who hopefully won’t get sick from the stuff like I did,” Tristan said. 

“Engineered stone is a cheaper alternative to marble and granite kitchen benchtops but doing something on the cheap always spells trouble,” he said. 

“A ban is a good first step, but politicians also need to make it easier for stonemasons who have silicosis and other lung diseases to access compensation because families are struggling to make ends meet.” 

Roger Singh is a national litigation specialist at Shine Lawyers and represented Anthony White, who became the first stonemason to die from silicosis in March, 2019. 

Singh has been lobbying for stricter workplace health and safety changes ever since. He made a submission to the National Dust Disease Taskforce, was invited to give evidence before the taskforce, and met with Federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke last November to push for a ban on engineered stone. 

“I’m pleased Mr Burke is seeking to bring forward the proposed ban on engineered stone because workers have waited long enough for workplace health and safety reforms and all the previous federal government did was kick the can down the road,” Singh said. 

“If, however, there are unforeseen delays in implementing a ban, I have always advocated for a national licensing scheme to ensure cowboy operators who break the rules are forced to close.” 

Kathryn Townsend, who runs the dust diseases litigation practice at Shine Lawyers, said federal, state, and territory governments still have more work to do to stamp out silicosis and related autoimmune conditions in other industries. 

“A ban on engineered stone will do nothing to protect people employed in the tunnelling, mining, and construction industries who are frequently exposed to toxic dust and are also getting sick,” she said. 

Roger Singh and Kathryn Townsend are available for interviews.

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