Scleroderma also known as systemic sclerosis is an autoimmune condition affecting the skin, connective tissue and organs, including the lungs. The rare condition affects an estimated 2.5 million individuals worldwide and has been linked to exposures to dust containing silica.
For 27-year-old Hak Kim, his diagnosis of scleroderma induced by his occupational exposure to dust containing silica has left him fighting for his life.
As a former asbestos removalist and soft demolition labourer, Hak understood the risks of asbestos dust to his health and Hak’s employer imposed rigid safety measures in preventing his exposure. What Hak’s employer failed to recognise were the dangers of silica dust.
While performing soft demolition work, Hak was exposed to dust containing silica arising from the demolition and removal of building materials including concrete, brick and tiles while working in enclosed spaces and in proximity to other workers demolishing concrete and masonry structures.
Silica is a widely abundant mineral compound used in many building materials such as natural stone, sand, concrete and mortar. Breathing in silica dust particles can cause many debilitating and incurable diseases, including silicosis, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, emphysema, diffuse dust fibrosis and scleroderma.
Hak was not made aware of the hazards of silica dust and without adequate measures to ensure his safety, his exposure to the deadly dust caused irreversible damage to his health.
Hak’s condition of scleroderma became apparent in 2018, having developed Reynaud’s phenomenon with discolouration and skin thickening on his hands, forearms, skin, torso and face. Pulmonary symptoms related to his condition developed in early 2020, affecting his lungs and heart, and in 2021, he was placed on a lung transplant waiting list under the care of Alfred Hospital.
Hak’s future remains uncertain and he faces physical and psychological challenges on a daily basis. He is no longer able to work or play soccer, a sport he once enjoyed, and quite often battles to breathe. Features of everyday life which most people take for granted are a challenge, with Hak’s partner and family having to aid him with activities of daily living including dressing and showering.
The medication Hak takes for his condition can affect his daily life as well, such as having an impact on his fertility. Despite the many challenges, Hak and his partner hope to experience the joys of having children and have elected to undergo IVF treatment.
With the help of Maurice Blackburn, Hak successfully pursued compensation against his former employer for failing to provide him with a safe system of work, exposing him to dust containing silica. He was compensated for his loss of earnings, medical and life expenses and pain and suffering. While the compensation will not restore Hak’s health, it will provide him with financial security for him and his family.
Occupational exposure to silica has become one of the most common and serious hazards for various occupations including construction and demolition workers, stonemasons and sandblasters.
Hak hopes for a brighter future and that his own life story will create greater awareness about the hazards of silica dust, prompting urgent action to protect workers.
If you or someone you know has been exposed to silica dust or been diagnosed with a silica related condition, please contact Maurice Blackburn Lawyers on 1800 810 812.
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