Gary McFarlane was good at his job. But now, he wishes he wasn’t.
Because if he wasn't good at sandblasting, perhaps he would have tried his hand at a different job. And perhaps he wouldn't be in the position he is today – diagnosed with silicosis and lung cancer as a result of breathing in silica dust during his 30-year career as a sandblaster.
When Gary started out as a sandblaster for an industrial maintenance contractor in 1969, there was very little protection for workers. He wore nothing except "a hanky and a pair of sunnies". Later in his career he used a mask and respirator, but constantly had to pull them off to check his work or to see what he was doing, exposing him to minute silica sand particles in the air.
He first started noticing symptoms in 2017 – shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain, fatigue. He shrugged it off until he contracted pneumonia and was admitted to hospital. It was here that he was diagnosed with lung cancer and put on a treatment plan of chemo and radiation. It was only when he went to his first radiation appointment that they discovered the silicosis.
Silicosis is an incurable and often fatal lung disease caused by breathing dust containing fragments of 'crystalline silica', found in almost all types of rock, sand, clay and gravel.
Miners, construction and quarry workers have traditionally been prone to silicosis, but in the last year there has been an alarming spike in the number of stonemasons and sandblasters diagnosed with the condition. Furthermore, The Cancer Council estimates that there are approximately 230 cases of lung cancer caused by silica exposure per year.
It can take years for people to develop silica-related illnesses. Many who have worked in these industries aren't aware they could have the disease because often, doctors don’t immediately see the link between respiratory issues and the type of work the patient did for a living. People don’t know their illness is work-related and therefore don’t know they could be entitled to compensation.
Gary was put in touch with Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, based on their reputation working on the James Hardy asbestos case.
He received a six-figure compensation payout from his former employer, close to $600,000. This is helping with his medical treatment and will set things up for his family when he’s not here.
"Working with Maurice Blackburn was fantastic. They surprised a lot of people, particularly me, with how quick they were. The time between submitting my claim and getting the pay out was four to five months. Now that’s quicker than some of my treatments. I'd swear by them."
Justice for workers like Gary is what drives Maurice Blackburn asbestos law and dust diseases Principal Lawyer, Jonathan Walsh. Gary’s is one of many cases recently taken on by Jonathan and the firm, with a large portion of the cases being filed in the Supreme Court, because the value of the claims exceeds $750,000.
In many cases, the firm is acting on behalf of younger plaintiffs and claims relating to future loss of earning capacity. Workers in their 20's and 30's who have silicosis are never again able to work in their industry, but are also being advised to not work in any related fields either. Meaning they are facing the prospect of completely reskilling and retraining or being unemployed. Their future earning capacity is being severely affected.
If you have worked in a dusty workplace and are concerned you may be at risk, go and see your GP.
If diagnosed, find out what your legal rights are for compensation. At Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, with a free first appointment, it doesn’t cost you anything to find out where you stand. If you have suffered from silicosis as a result of workplace exposure, our occupational lawyers can help you get the compensation you deserve.
"The fact that a centuries old disease is still affecting – and killing – workers in 2019 is a disgrace. That a deadly product is still being used unabated and insufficiently regulated in workplaces around Australia is abominable and tragic. It's time to take action. Know your legal rights and let us help you fight for fair compensation."
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers are experts in Silicosis, Occupational Health and Lung disease and are committed to fighting for a fair go for all workers.
While Gary hung up his equipment long ago, he has a message for younger workers who may think wearing protective clothing is uncomfortable or inconvenient:
"You don’t want to wear protective gear? Get another job. Sure, jobs can be hard to find. But they're easier to find than a new pair of lungs."