Work-related lung diseases continue to rise

Thursday 29 November 2018
Giorgina McCormack

Cases of fatal occupational lung disease in Australia are increasing, with Government research showing that asbestos-related cancer remains a serious health concern for Australians. 

Responding to recent outcry, the Morrison Government has also called for States to investigate the health risks associated with the stonemasonry industry.

Other affected occupations include: sandblasters, tunnellers, quarry workers, foundry workers and by potters and workers in the ceramics industry.

Asbestos and occupational lung diseases

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reports that there are two new cases of mesothelioma diagnosed each day.  In total, over 700 cases of mesothelioma were reported nationwide in 2017.

Mesothelioma is primarily caused by exposure to asbestos.  Between the 1940s and the early 1980s, asbestos was commonly used in variety of industrial building products in Australia and around the world.  In 2003, asbestos was officially banned from importation into Australia.  Due to its common use in building products AIHW statistics show that Australian men are most affected by the disease. 

The “new asbestos”

A new industrial lung disease, also predominantly impacting men, is ‘silicosis’ and affects workers in the stonemasonry industry.  Those affected are increasing in numbers, causing the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, to call on the States to investigate health and safety practices in the industry. 

Silicosis is caused by the inhalation of silica dust, a mineral present in rock products such as granite, which is breathed in when the stone is cut.  Inhaling significant quantities of silica dust causes irreparable damage to the lungs and can ultimately lead to death.

Those exposed often present to their GP with symptoms such as breathlessness, coughing, chest discomfort and fatigue.  These can develop over time.

Types of silicosis

  • Acute silicosis – short term exposure to high concentrations (few weeks to 5+ years).
  • Chronic simple silicosis – exposure to low concentrations with developing symptoms over 10-30+ years.
  • Accelerated silicosis – low concentration exposure, developing over  5+ years.
  • Complicated silicosis – indicating a large amount of lung scarring, progressive massive fibrosis and an advanced stage of simple silicosis.

Safe Work Australia have performed a blitz of inspections across the stonemasonry industry to investigate the processes and procedures of hundreds of businesses.  In an attempt to stifle the industry crisis, Safe Work Australia has issued a number of stop work notices requiring businesses to improve their safety procedures before work can recommence.

Making a claim for compensation

People suffering with these lung diseases may be entitled to make a claim for compensation.  Claims are commonly made against the manufacturer of the products or a negligent employer. 

If you are entitled to compensation, you can seek damages for ‘pain and suffering’, past and future economic loss and any medical and similar expenses incurred due to the illness. 

Given the complex nature of lung diseases such as mesothelioma and silicosis, the Victorian Government and the Courts have implemented specific legislation and procedures to deal with claims for compensation for injuries caused by ‘dust diseases’.  These procedures ensure that terminally ill people can receive compensation quickly.

If you or someone you know has been exposed to asbestos or silica and have developed mesothelioma, silicosis or an industrial dust disease, we invite you speak to us on (03) 9321 9988.

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