The trend towards engineered stone kitchen and bathroom benchtops has seen thousands of Australian workers exposed to unsafe quantities of silica in the past ten years. It has been reported that the number of silicosis cases in Australia exceeded 350 before the end of 2019.
Silicosis is a long-term lung disease caused by inhaling unsafe levels of silica dust for an extended period of time. For example, working with quartz, sand, stone, soil, granite, brick, cement, grout, mortar, bitumen or engineered stone products can put you at risk of silicosis. These materials contain the mineral silica in the form of very fine dust particles that are easily inhaled, causing scarring on the lungs.
The following types of work put people at risk for silicosis:
- Stone masonry and stone cutting – especially with artificial stone such as engineered, reconstituted or manufactured stone and quartz conglomerate
- Construction and demolition
- Pottery, ceramics and glass manufacturing
- Mining and quarrying
- Sand blasting
Leading dust diseases clinician Dr Graeme Edwards estimated about 1 in 5 people who have had extended exposure to silica could contract the disease, and believes the silica in some engineered stone benchtops is even more toxic than asbestos. Despite calls for a total ban on silica, Edwards stated that there isn’t enough evidence for a total industry-wide ban, and maintains there is actually a safe way to handle silica, unlike asbestos.
“In a formed state, the product called silica is safe,” Edwards said in an interview with ABC News. “There is a law that prohibits the unsafe work practices that unfortunately we are still seeing today.” Stating that he believed the problem lay with enforcement, he added, “It is the failings of various parts of the system to apply the law that already exists.”
Furthermore, Edwards noted that while regulation is improving, there is still a long way to go, and that a national code of practice being enacted before the end of 2020 is not likely. Dr Edwards also warned that the problem is only going to get bigger.
“We’re talking in the hundreds, some will die within 12 months, some will die within five years,” he said.
If you or a loved one think you have been affected by silicosis, you should speak with a lawyer about your compensation rights. The team at Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers are experts in dust disease, mesothelioma and asbestosis claims. Contact us for a free consultation today.