Silicosis, a lung disease caused by silica dust exposure and breathing in the toxic dust, has aggressively re-emerged in Australia’s stonemasonry industry. Hundreds of stonemasons have been diagnosed with silicosis in recent years, with the popularity of artificial stone in housing partly responsible. In Australia, over the last few years, the number of silicosis cases has been on the rise with 470 silicosis compensation claims accepted in Australia – nearly double the number from less than two years ago.
"Receiving a silicosis diagnosis is devastating,” says Kathryn Townsend of Shine Lawyers Dust Disease practice. "Although there is no cure, there are some measures you can take to reduce the impact this disease has on you and your family. "Keep reading to learn more about silicosis and how you can detect it early.
What is silicosis?
Silicosis is a chronic, deadly lung disease that is caused by the inhalation of silica particles. Silica is a common mineral found in many building materials, such as sandstone, marble, slate, and granite.
When these materials are cut, ground or polished, tiny respirable silica particles may be inhaled deep into the lungs, causing scarring and fibroids. These fibroids make it increasingly difficult for a sufferer to breathe. The disease has re-emerged partly due to the popularity of artificial stone being used in kitchens and bathrooms, in new builds and renovations.
Engineered stone is created using resin embedded with silica, the levels of which are much higher than traditional stone benchtops. When this stone is cut and polished, it releases very high levels of respirable silica. The current epidemic is affecting young men in the prime of their working life.
In late 2018, the Queensland Government banned dry cutting of engineered stone in an attempt to curb the crisis and other states like Victoria have followed. Employers are required to protect their workers from silica dust exposure, in ways such as:
Water suppression systems and technology
A safe work area that isolates the dust
Correct ventilation and exhaust systems
Providing protective clothing and equipment to workers, as well as up-to-date training on how to use the equipment evaluation.
If you are working or have worked with engineered stone, you may have been exposed to high levels of silica. It is vital that you visit a medical expert such as a respiratory physician, so they can perform a lung function test and chest x-ray as part of their medical evaluation.
You should also access the free health screening programs which have been rolled out for stonemasons in some Australian states, including Queensland and Victoria.
What happens if I receive a silicosis diagnosis?
Your doctor will have the best advice when it comes to living with silicosis. If your condition should worsen from silicosis to progressive massive fibrosis then, depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor may discuss lung transplant surgery with you. Some of the most important things to do after your diagnosis are:
Avoid further exposure to silica and other dusty environments
Don’t smoke or if you do, seek advice about quitting as soon as possible
Get vaccinated against influenza and other diseases that affect the respiratory system
Look after your general health and wellbeing
After a silicosis diagnosis, getting emotional and financial support is important. Ask your doctor or visit The Lung Foundation for a support group near you. Depending on your condition your ability to work may be affected – a legal claim for compensation could provide you and your family financial support.
Claiming compensation for a silicosis diagnosis
If you suspect you’ve been exposed to silicosis dust or experience symptoms of a dust disease, you should document your exposure using our free silicosis register and see your doctor. If you are diagnosed with silicosis, you should seek legal advice as soon as reasonable, as strict time limits apply to claims. You may be eligible to claim compensation for:
Loss of past and future earnings
Medical expenses and treatments
Pain and suffering.
Our Dust Disease team will support your compensation claim and where possible, speed up the legal process. We have a history of fighting and advocating for workers with silicosis and in 2020, our team successfully argued with insurers the link between lupus and silica dust in an Australia-first decision.
Shine Lawyers are silicosis compensation experts
Despite the known dangers of silica in the workplace, many workers are still being exposed. Shine Lawyers National Litigation Specialist Roger Singh acts for a dozen silicosis clients nationwide and has been campaigning for the past several year for stricter workplace regulations to keep workers safe.
He has proposed a strict licensing regime for engineered stone businesses and has written to the federal government, and all relevant ministers in each state and territory, urging a coordinated national approach to safety around silicosis exposure.
He has also made submissions to the National Dust Diseases Task Force, set up by the Federal Government to develop a national approach for the prevention and management of occupational dust diseases in Australia. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help the stonemasons who have already developed silicosis.
Recently there has been news around a law firm launching a class action, however, Roger, with his years of specialised experience advocates an individual claim is a better option. “The best option for injured workers in silicosis cases is to bring individual claims where the compensation will be a lot higher and will be obtained a lot quicker than in a class action,” Roger explains. “An individual claim is tailored for a particular person’s suffering and losses and if their life expectancy is reduced because of their silicosis then a claim can be fast-tracked for an early resolution which is not the case with a class action.”
Shine Lawyers are silicosis claim experts
Shine Lawyers are experts in silicosis compensation. Our Dust Disease team has a proven record when it comes to supporting clients successfully claim compensation and access their legal entitlements.
Over the years, the team have successfully campaigned for change to make safer workplaces including bans on dry cutting and regular health checks for workers at risk. Members of the team have also made submissions to the National Dust Diseases Task Force, set up by the Federal Government to develop a national approach for the prevention and management of occupational dust diseases in Australia. These were adopted in the recommendations made by the Task Force in their final report.
If you or a loved one is suffering from silicosis or another dust-related disease, contact our Dust Disease team online to find out if you have a claim and how we may assist you access the financial support you need.