Joshua Suwa should be spending his weekends playing soccer with his boys, teaching them the game he loved and played for years, but he can’t.
A 35-year-old father of two boys, husband to Erin, and a keen soccer fan, Joshua’s job that helped him provide for his family has sadly left him struggling for breath.
A former stonemason who spent seven years working with engineered stone, Joshua has been diagnosed with silicosis – a serious, progressive and incurable lung disease.
“Some of the symptoms I was having when I noticed something was wrong, the main one was shortness of breath,” says Joshua.
“I used to have to walk four or five flights of stairs before I finished work, and I would notice that I couldn’t really walk one flight of stairs without having a break.”
Joshua’s work involved cutting, grinding, gluing, and polishing engineered stone. However, his diagnosis means he is no longer able to work.
“I can’t go back into any sort of industry that has any dust or any fumes, so it cuts out a lot of what I have known for the past 15 or so years.”
For Joshua, however, being out of work is far from the hardest part of his disease.
“It’s impacted my personal life, I’m not the same person I was. Mentally not the same person, physically not the same person.”
My name is Joshua Suwa. I'm 35 years old. I got silicosis, I believe from working with the stone bench tops.
As far as I'm aware that it's a progressive disease.
The doctors have told me it's a progressive disease and it's an incurable disease. Initially, I was diagnosed with just, silicosis.
The doctor also noticed there was an issue with my blood and sent me through to St. Vincent's to get that, checked up and turns out that I had an autoimmune condition.
Some of the symptoms I was having when I noticed something was wrong.
The main one was shortness of breath.
I used to have to walk four or five flights of stairs before I finished work.
And, um, yeah, I would notice that I couldn't really walk one flight of stairs without having, having a break. So that, that's when I sort of started to realise I would start to perspire, uh, a lot.
So I was sweating a lot more than than usual.
It's impacted my personal life. I'm not, I'm not the same person I was.
Even just, I'm probably not the same partner I once was. I'm not as jovial.
So yeah, I'm definitely mentally not, not the same person, physically not the same person. I'm currently not, not employed. Um, sort of can't, can't go back into any sort of industry that has any dust, any fumes. So it sort of cuts out a lot of what I have known, um, for the past, uh, 15 or so years. Nearly everyone I've worked with, um, has got silicosis or is off with silicosis at the moment.
So it's not just myself.
I find that because people can't physically see an injury, come and watch me walk with my kids to the park and see how hard that is.
Just showering my kids, showering myself, the huffing and puffing. So, yeah, it's, it's those things that nobody sort of sees that affects us the most.
I think that the unknown is what scares me the most.
Not knowing what the future's gonna bring, not knowing how my condition's gonna progress, not knowing if I'll be able to sort of be the fun dad
and not knowing how long I have with, with my kids. That's, the scariest part, my message to the manufacturers about this material.
There, there is no safe way to work with it.
You've just gotta think that for you to get that product at home, somebody's had to breathe in this toxic dust.
I'm Leah O'Keefe, a lawyer from Maurice Blackburn Lawyers.
I specialise in workplace diseases like silicosis.
I assist people who are suffering from silicosis to access compensation because many of them are dying. In recent weeks, you may have seen information from engineered stone manufacturers on social media and in the news.
Engineered stone is a manmade fashion product with an incredibly high content of silica when cut, the workers breathe in the dust, which causes a serious progressive lung disease called silicosis.
Engineered stone products have a very high silica content, higher than naturally occurring stones or rock. That is why they are dangerous, and that is why they need to be banned.
The science says that these products are not safe.
Studies estimate that one in four Australian stone workers already have silicosis. Stone workers also face a really high risk of lung cancer.
Studies estimate that 10,000 Australian workers will develop lung cancer in the future due to their silica dust exposure.
Some manufacturers say that banning their products won't eliminate silicosis, but a chorus of experts, scientists, unions, lawyers, and doctors support a ban because it will drastically reduce the number of people getting sick in the future. We have seen the impact on workers, and we have watched people die from silicosis.
We have seen the devastating and crippling impact that silicosis has on our clients and their families. At Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, we support a total ban of all engineered stone products as the only way to stop these Australian workers from dying.
There is no safe level of exposure to silica dust.
The fact of the matter is a ban will save lives.
“The unknown is what scares me the most. Not knowing what the future’s going to bring, not knowing how my condition is going to progress, not knowing if I’ll be able to be the fun Dad and not knowing how long I have with my kids. That’s the scariest part.”
Joshua’s reaction to engineered stone manufacturers calling for a reduction in silica content rather than a total ban is one of frustration.
“There is no safe way to work with it,” says Joshua.
“For you to get that product at home, somebody’s had to breathe in this toxic dust.”
His challenge for those who oppose a ban is simple.
“Come and watch me walk with my kids to the park and see how hard that is.”
“We have seen the impacts on workers; we have watched people die from silicosis. We have seen the devastating and crippling impacts silicosis has on our clients and their families,” says Leah.
Engineered stone is a man-made product with an incredibly high content of silica. When cut, the workers breathe in the silica dust, which causes a serious lung disease called silicosis.
Studies estimate that 1 in 4 Australian stone workers already have silicosis. Furthermore, stonemasons also have a high risk of lung cancer.
Curtin University estimates ten thousand Aussie workers will develop lung cancer in the future due to silica dust exposure.
Leah explains that engineered stone products have a very high silica content - higher than naturally occurring stone or rock.
Leah is clear that:
“That is why engineered stone is dangerous. That is why engineered stone needs to be banned”.
Maurice Blackburn supports a total ban on all engineered stone products.
Documenting any dust exposure in case you develop a lung or other related disease later in life is a good idea. We have created the free National Dust Register to provide an easy way to do this.
Recording the details of your silica dust exposure, regardless of how recent or long ago it was, can help any future claims for compensation you may need to make. It's free to register and obligation-free as well.
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.