Global search

Primary navigation

The law of negligence in Australia goes back as far as a snail in the bottom of a ginger beer bottle. 

Since the seminal pivotal case of Donoghue v Stevenson, Commonwealth and State and Territory laws have evolved over generations to meet the specific needs of the communities they serve. In fact, a large portion of the country's tort reform was implemented in the early part of the 21st century, aimed principally at reducing individuals' rights to go to common law and exercise those rights through the courts. 

However, our laws for essential workers are currently unfit for purpose and require urgent reform.

The right to go to common law to seek injury compensation is a well-trodden path for lawyers and their clients. A woman seriously injured in a car accident in Melbourne could seek redress in the Victorian courts. A man losing a limb in a mining accident in Mount Isa would sue for damages in the Queensland courts.

The need for a streamlined workers' compensation

In the last few years, there has been much media spotlight on the plight of stonemasons exposed to harmful levels of silica dust, leading them to develop disabling silicosis. 

Thankfully, in December 2023, the state, territory and federal governments announced a ban on engineered stone in Australia. We fully support the ban, which will save others and protect countless others from debilitating diseases.

We must, however, continue to focus on how these workers, many of whom have lost their livelihoods at a young age with serious lung disease, are compensated for their often very significant financial losses. For example, what if their exposure to the harmful dust was across a couple of decades in different States?

Mobile Tunnel Workers and Legal Hurdles for Compensation

As a law firm dedicated to protecting the rights of workers across Australia, it's crucial to shed light on the challenges faced by tunnel workers who have contributed significantly to the country's infrastructure development. The experiences of these skilled professionals underscore the complexities of seeking fair compensation for work-related health issues, particularly in cases involving exposure to harmful substances like silica dust.

Consider the story of a seasoned 55-year-old tunneller whose career spans multiple states and even includes international projects. After years of dedicated service, he develops symptomatic lung disease or a silica-related autoimmune condition. However, his plight doesn't end there. His condition may be deemed divisible, requiring him to pursue legal action against each employer in each state where he was exposed to the hazardous environment. This means navigating a labyrinth of legal systems and regulations, often resulting in inadequate compensation for the worker.

Sadly, this scenario is all too common for sick and injured construction workers grappling with the repercussions of long-term exposure to harmful dust. The burden of proving liability falls squarely on the shoulders of the worker. Meanwhile, insurers emerge as the primary beneficiaries, while workers are left to fight for their rights in a convoluted legal landscape.

A nation failing its essential workers

This raises an important question: are we failing our essential construction workers? The answer seems unequivocal. Legislators and policymakers must acknowledge the inherent injustice in a system that undermines the rights and well-being of workers who have dedicated their careers to shaping the nation's infrastructure.

If the Federal Parliament can take decisive action to ban engineered stone, it must also take proactive steps to reform laws perpetuating inequity and uncertainty for injured workers. This includes clarifying jurisdictional issues and empowering workers to choose the state where their common law rights can be exercised, which must go hand in hand with a right to full and proper compensation for their injury and financial losses.

At Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, we advocate for meaningful reforms prioritising fairness and justice for all workers. It's time for legislative action that reflects our commitment to protecting those who have contributed tirelessly to the prosperity of our nation. Together, we can ensure tunnel workers and their families receive the support and compensation they deserve.

We can help with disease exposure claims

Our experienced lawyers have a long history of fighting for the rights of people suffering from asbestos, silica and other dust related illnesses. If you've been diagnosed with a dust disease, you may have a claim for compensation. 

It doesn't cost you anything to know where you stand 

Office locations

We’re here to help. Get in touch with your local office.

Select your state below

We have lawyers who specialise in a range of legal claims who travel to Australian Capital Territory. If you need a lawyer in Canberra or elsewhere in Australian Capital Territory, please call us on 1800 675 346.

We have lawyers who specialise in a range of legal claims who travel to Tasmania. If you need a lawyer in Hobart, Launceston or elsewhere in Tasmania, please call us on 1800 675 346.