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In recent years, Australia has seen a surge in silicosis cases – an incurable, often fatal, lung disease caused by breathing in silica dust. A diagnosis of silicosis can be an emotional and overwhelming time for the person diagnosed and those who are supporting them – such as their partners, parents, children and friends.

If you are supporting someone who has been diagnosed with silicosis, you may be wondering how to best help them. Similarly, if your loved one is contemplating seeking compensation, or if you’d like to suggest they consider it, you may be looking for information to understand the process.

This article provides advice on how to support your loved one – from your initial discussions through to making a claim, and what to expect from the process.

What is silicosis?

Silicosis is a lung disease caused by exposure to silica dust, which is found in almost every type of natural rock, sand, clay and gravel in Australia. However, it is most dangerous in artificial stone products, such as kitchen benchtops – which are responsible for the recent resurgence of the disease. Workers who manufacture and install these benchtops, such as stonemasons, are at greatest risk of developing the disease.

Beyond the incurable nature of silicosis, one of the most tragic aspects of a diagnosis is that often the person’s workplace could have done much more to protect them. For this reason, compensation claims are common and very likely to be successful.

How to speak to your loved one about their diagnosis

If you are supporting someone who is diagnosed with silicosis, it is important you give them some time to process their situation. When they feel up to talking, here’s some things you can do:

  • Listen. The most important thing you can do is practice ‘active listening’. This means you listen attentively and reflect back what your loved one says, to show you hear them. Having a space to talk openly about how they are feeling can help them work through their thoughts and emotions.
  • Provide support resources. In addition to your support, let your loved one know there are many professional support networks available. At Maurice Blackburn, we can provide advice about appropriate support resources and groups in your area.
  • Discuss seeking legal advice. It’s important to encourage your loved one to seek legal advice on their rights, entitlements and making a claim. Once they are diagnosed, provided they worked in an environment where they were exposed to silica dust, it is very likely their claim will be accepted.


Making a claim: Where do you start?

Once you’ve spoken to your loved one about seeking legal advice, or they suggest it’s something they want to explore, you can provide invaluable support through this process. Before making a claim for compensation, there are a few things you’ll need to do:

 1. Find a law firm

If the person you are supporting decides to make a legal claim, they will need to choose a law firm and lawyer to act on their behalf. You might like to offer do some research for them.

It’s a good idea to look for law firms that:

  • specialise in personal injury law and occupational diseases, such as silicosis
  • have experience representing silicosis sufferers
  • offer a ‘no win, no fee’ model – meaning you only need to pay for services if the case is successful.


2. Make contact with your desired law firm

Before you make contact with any law firm, it’s important you have consent from your loved one.

At Maurice Blackburn, we can have a conversation with you, providing you have their permission. However, after that conversation – if it sounds like we can help – we will need to speak with the person diagnosed before proceeding with the case.

3. Meet with a lawyer for an initial consultation

This meeting is an opportunity for your lawyer to hear your loved one's story, gather information to understand the case and provide advice. You can also ask any questions you might have - we are by your side to help with any queries or concerns. Your lawyer will also explain how the claim process will work. At Maurice Blackburn this initial consultation is free.

At this meeting the lawyer will:

  • ask questions about your loved one’s work history, to understand the true extent of silica dust contact and exposure
  • provide preliminary advice about the strength of the claim for compensation
  • explain the legal process for making a claim
  • discuss the likely timeframes
  • explain the legal fees and how the ‘no win, no fee’ agreement works.


Can you remain involved in the legal process?

Once your loved one chooses a lawyer, and the legal process begins, you can remain involved to support them. While the person with silicosis will always be the primary contact, it can be valuable to have a support person involved – to take notes, ask questions and provide emotional support.

What to expect from the legal process

Each state and territory in Australia has slightly different systems for people who are injured at work. For that reason, the process for making a claim will differ depending on where the person diagnosed with silicosis lives.

You and your loved one should speak to your lawyer to understand the steps involved for your specific situation.

Our dust diseases work

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

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Our Canberra office is now closed, but our team continues to serve ACT clients and are available for phone and video appointments. If you need legal advice, 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.