Silicosis-affected stonesmasons seek compensation
Australian stonemasons are seeking compensation after engineered stone exposed them to silica dust and left thousands with silicosis.
Law firm Slater and Gordon has come to the stonemasons’ aid, preparing a class action against manufacturers of the popular artificial stone kitchen and bathroom benchtops.
Workers were likely exposed to the dust while cutting or manufacturing the stone, which is over 90% crystalline silica, according to Slater and Gordon.
As a result, the firm has had an influx of workers seeking compensation, which will likely continue to as more people are diagnosed.
Slater and Gordon Practice Group Leader Margaret Kent said that workers across the country are gradually becoming aware of their potential exposure and entire workplaces are learning whether they and their employees have been affected all at once.
Twenty-nine-year-old stonemason Joel Goldby is one of many who’ve recently been diagnosed with silicosis.
“I had a shortness of breath and assumed it was everyday life or something that happens when you get older,” Goldby said.
“I had never even heard about it and we never really spoke about it at work; we really didn’t know the danger involved.
“My mum pushed me to go to the doctor after my older brother got diagnosed.
“When I finally got the test done, the scan showed numerous nodules ranging from 1–5 millimetres across both lungs.”
Kent is currently urging all workers to get tested for silicosis, particularly those in Queensland and Victoria who have access to free screenings — not only so that they have the opportunity to join the class action, but to protect their health.
What is silicosis?
Silicosis is an incurable and potentially deadly disease caused by inhaling airborne silica dust. It is characterised by inflammation and scarring of the lung tissue as well as an influx of protein in the lung.
Symptoms of silicosis include shortness of breath on exertion, occasional chest pain, loss of appetite and minor fatigue. As it progresses, people can experience shortness of breath with minor exertion, a persistent cough, increased chest pain and fatigue, weight loss and night sweats.
Workers with silicosis have a higher risk of contracting tuberculosis (TB) and lung cancer.
While silicosis usually takes 10 or more years to develop, high silica dust exposure can reduce that time to as little as three years.
Because the disease is dose dependent, the only thing workers can do to limit silicosis is to stop exposure.
This has meant exposed or diagnosed workers in their 20s, 30s and 40s are having to stop cutting stone (if they’re lucky), leave their profession or stop work all together.
Kent said the major benchtop suppliers — Caeserstone, Quantum Quartz and Smartstone — did not adequately communicate the severe safety risks associated with their products or outline the safety precautions workers should take while handling them.
“Under Australian law the responsibility for harm caused in these circumstances rightly falls on the manufacturers involved. The extreme levels of harm caused by dust from stone benchtop products in Australia can be traced back to a small number of manufacturers.
“It is a tragedy that so many people have, or will, become grievously ill just by going to work.”
While Kent said it’s too early to tell how many people will ultimately join the class action, when it will go to court or what they’re seeking financially, she did say that the approach should supplement existing workers compensation entitlements.
Originally published here.
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