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Mining was more than just a job to him; it was all he knew. The people he worked with underground became his mates – for Steve, the people made mining.

What Steve didn’t know was that his job was making him sick.

Exposure to varying levels of silica dust over his entire working life left Steve struggling for breath, and he was eventually diagnosed with advanced silicosis, otherwise known as progressive massive fibrosis.

“I’ve told tens of thousands of people that we’re very fortunate in Mount Isa. We havemetal mines so you don’t get silicosis,” said Steve.

“Well, that was a load of rubbish.”

The hidden dangers of underground mining

Steve was a member of the Australian Workers’ Union and an outspoken advocate for workplace safety throughout his career. Unfortunately, following company mandated procedures wasn’t enough to protect Steve from exposure to silica dust.

“I don’t ever remember anyone telling me, ‘Get out, there’s too much dust.’ And it was killing us.”

Silicosis is a lung disease caused by breathing in silica dust particles, which are created when a material containing crystalline silica is cut, drilled, or extracted. Miners, stonemasons, and construction workers are all at exceptionally high risk of silica dust exposure.

Employers’ failure to properly educate and protect workers from dust exposure has left a haunting legacy. While workplace safety conditions are improving, symptoms of silicosis and other silica-related diseases can take years to appear, meaning that for many thousands of Australian workers, the damage has already been done.

Steve’s doctors have told him he will need to be on oxygen full-time in the next couple of years and that, sadly, his condition is terminal.

Finding support for the compensation process

Following his diagnosis, Steve contacted Maurice Blackburn Lawyers for advice on making a compensation claim.

Jonathan Walsh, a Principal Lawyer specialising in dust diseases, travelled to Mount Isa to meet with Steve, listen to his story and explain his legal options. Together, they mapped out a plan forward.

Right from the start, Steve felt like Jonathan and his team were working to get the best outcome for him.

“From the first meeting to the last, I knew they were on my side,” said Steve.

Jonathan acted for Steve on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis in a common law claim against his employer to prove that their negligence caused Steve’s illness.

“We helped Steve gather evidence around his exposure over time, where he worked, and the medical evidence to help him win that case,” said Jonathan.

While no amount of compensation will make up for the pain and suffering Steve and his family have experienced, it will ease the financial pressure of ongoing medical treatment.

Steve continues to be impressed with the level of care and support shown by Jonathan and our dust diseases team.

“My settlement now is finished, over, done and dusted, but Jonathan rang me up and asked me how I was going, and he didn’t have to do that,” said Steve.

For Jonathan, seeing how silica-related diseases affect clients like Steve over a long period is incredibly motivating.

“We need to ensure that our team’s legal service is top-notch and that we deliver results on time, but the advocacy and work we’re doing around law reform to make workplaces safer is also absolutely paramount,” said Jonathan.

“Doing one or the other is not enough.”

Protecting the next generation of miners

Steve hopes that sharing his story will help protect future generations of mine workers, who may not be thinking about the future impact dust exposure could have on their health.

“I don’t want young people today going through what some of us are going through.”

If you have been exposed to silica dust, one simple step you can take now is to record the details in our National Dust Register. Recording exposure details, regardless of how recent or long ago they were, can help with any future compensation claims.

If you or someone you care about has been diagnosed with a dust-related disease, contact us to speak with one of our expert dust disease lawyers.

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. 

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