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Exposing a National Crisis: Dust Disease in Australia

3 minute read

Toxic exposure, silica and dust diseases

On 13 December 2023, in response to a national crisis, the Australian Government has announced a ban on engineered stone, effective 1 July 2024.

Back in the early 2000s, a pure marble benchtop would set you back several thousand dollars. So, when ‘engineered stone’ hit the market, for less than half the price, suddenly everyone wanted a new kitchen or bathroom benchtop. With the industry booming, hundreds of young men signed up to become a stonemason – cutting, polishing, and installing these man-made benchtops. They were easier to source, looked and felt exactly like marble, were much cheaper, and were more scratch resistant than real marble and granite. However, below the surface of these benchtops lay a toxic substance that when ingested or inhaled, could be fatal and young stonemasons had no idea what they were cutting into. ‘Silica’ is a common mineral found in both natural and engineered stone. However engineered stone is made up of 95% ‘crystalline silica’, which if inhaled or ingested repeatedly can cause silicosis, an irreversible lung disease. In late 2015, Roger Singh was the first to notice the connection between silicosis and young people in the stonemason industry. Roger’s pioneering work revealed that in the engineered stone industry, the time between first exposure and onset of silicosis symptoms could be extremely rapid, compared to other industries.

It's with pride that we have successfully represented Australia's first workers battling diseases caused by engineered stone, and establishing a connection between this product and autoimmune diseases, in addition to silicosis.”

Roger Singh

For more than 25 years, Roger’s relentless lobbying has generated landmark outcomes in the dust disease space. Through the power of mentorship, he has formed a formidable force with Kathryn Townsend, who is carrying on the fight to seek compensation for clients suffering from exposure to toxic substances. They may not be doctors or medical scientists, but Roger and Kathryn were the first in Australia to successfully prove the connection between young people and silicosis in a courtroom. They are now at the forefront, leading the conversation, campaigning, and advocating for victims of dust disease and toxic dust exposure. Roger is well-known for representing Zorko Zabic, a 74-year-old man who had mesothelioma 40 years after working in a Northern Territory alumina refinery in the 1970s. It was this case that went on to shape ground-breaking legislation to assist asbestos disease sufferers. In 1997, new laws were passed, removing the right for workers to bring a court-based claim to recover fair and proper compensation. Refusing to give up, Roger represented Zorko’s all the way to the High Court of Australia, where he succeeded in enabling cases like Zorko’s to be brought in the courts and taken seriously.

Over the years, Roger and Kathryn have worked tirelessly to drive awareness around toxic dust exposure and remain determined to hold employers accountable for keeping their workers safe. They provide expert advice to state governments, ministers and unions and have contributed to new state regulations and licensing of silica-related industries. They applaud the national ban on engineered stone commencing in July 2024. Roger and Kathryn are now breaking new ground, connecting silica dust to other heartbreaking autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma. When a client walks through Shine’s door, they can be certain that the toxic exposure, silica and dust team will leave no stone unturned to prove their exposure and ensure they get the compensation they deserve. Roger continues to pave the way for change for victims of toxic dust exposure. He has built a legacy that he’s passed on to passionate people like Kathryn to ensure our clients have a constant pillar in the very complex and confusing world of toxic exposure, silica and dust disease litigation. Not afraid to step up to a challenge or push the boundaries; for Roger and Kathryn, no case or client is too big or too hard.

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