Silicosis is a permanent, progressive and serious lung disease, caused by exposure to stone and sand dusts that contain crystalline silica. It is having a concerning impact on stonemasons in Victoria and Australia. Silica is a naturally occurring mineral and is found in sand and in natural stones like marble.
Reconstituted or ‘engineered’ stone products are incredibly popular in new kitchens and bathrooms in Australia. Compared with natural stones like marble, reconstituted stone products are cheaper, stronger, more durable and less likely to stain. They are manufactured by combining natural stone minerals with resins. However, the trouble with these reconstituted stone products is that they have a very high percentage of crystalline silica.
There is a growing stonemason industry using this product to meet the demand for stone bench tops in kitchens and bathrooms. And from this industry a number of hard working young men are developing the debilitating disease of silicosis. In some cases the disease is so severe that double lung transplantation may be required.
Workers in this industry inhale dust when they cut, polish and install the stone bench tops. Dust levels can be reduced by using water processes, but many workplaces do not have the proper processes in place and alarmingly, employers are not providing their workers with proper respiratory masks to protect them. People working with these products should have regularly medical checks arranged by their employers, but many aren’t even told that the product is dangerous.
Silicosis is not the only concern. Silica is known to be carcinogenic and can cause lung cancer. There is often a long lag time, but we may see lung cancer due to silica dust exposure in stonemasons in the future.
If you or somebody you know is diagnosed with silicosis, they may have potential compensation entitlements. Maurice Blackburn’s dust diseases lawyers can provide you with advice about those compensation entitlements.
What should I do?
- If you have worked as a stonemason, tell your GP about your exposure to silica and ask for regular chest x-rays;
- If you are diagnosed with silicosis, contact Maurice Blackburn for advice about potential compensation entitlements;
- If you are installing a stone bench top, ask the tradesperson to use wet processes, masks and to clean up properly after the job is done.