Occupational breathing difficulties

Tuesday 8 August 2017
Catherine Sim

Along with the well-known respiratory diseases, including asbestosis and mesothelioma, caused by asbestos, there are a number of other employment related dust and lung diseases.

Silicosis, caused by exposure to silica dust, is a ‘proclaimed disease’ – meaning it is deemed to be due to employment. Under section 51 of the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013, any worker involved in manufacturing or other processes involving exposure to the inhalation of silica dust will be entitled to claim worker’s compensation, unless the employer or the Victorian WorkCover Authority can prove it is not related to the work process.

Pre-existing asthma aggravated or exacerbated by occupational activities can also be the subject of a successful WorkCover claim. There are a number of recent successful claims for occupational asthma, including an art teacher who suffered injury as a result of the solvents, paints and dust in the classroom, along with a mechanic at a panel beating firm, exposed to resins and solvents. Asthma is not a proclaimed disease, so each case must be assessed on its own facts.

Reactive Airway Dysfunction Syndrome (RADS) is another injury which must be assessed on its merits. The 2016 case of Harris v Lend Lease Services Pty Ltd [2016] VMC016 in the Latrobe Valley is illustrative of the individual facts of each case taking on a greater weight. In this case, the Plaintiff was overweight and smoked approximately 10 cigarettes a day. The Magistrate held that a period of approximately two months off work was attributable to the Plaintiff’s employment, however the ongoing incapacity of the Plaintiff was related to his personal habits and pre-existing medical conditions.

These are a small sample of the type occupational dust and lung diseases that workers can suffer from exposure to irritants.

Due to often complex factual disputes in relation to the development of diseases which are not proclaimed in accordance with the legislation, you need expert advice about your potential entitlement. For free advice call a lawyer direct on (03) 9321 9988.

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