Silicosis – a “Nationwide Epidemic”?


A recent ABC News article titled “Silicosis death of Anthony White sparks calls for action to address ‘nationwide epidemic'” addressed the tragic death of a Gold Coast stonemason from this disease.

It is an insidious disease, caused by inspiring the crystalline silica found in manufactured stone bathroom and kitchen benchtops.

While manufactured stone fittings such as these have gained in popularity relatively recently, the disease has long been recognised as a problem, the origin of the word “silicosis” having been traced back to 1870, with the disease itself having been recognised much earlier than that, in Greek and Roman times.

Why is it a problem now?

It seems to be because manufactured stone contains a higher proportion of crystalline silica than natural stone and that, coupled with the demand for the product and questionable workplace hygiene (possibly due to a lack of appreciation of the risks involved), has led to an explosion of cases.

A Queensland Government audit of that State’s stone industry found 98 workers had contracted silicosis, with 15 of those cases considered terminal.

The Victorian Government is reportedly pushing to adopt one of the strictest workplace standards in the world to prevent silicosis.

The WA Government issued a Safety Alert for the problem in November 2018.

From a  workers’ compensation perspective, silicosis is a specified industrial disease under Schedule 3, Workers’ Compensation and Injury Management Act 1981 (WA), being defined as “pneumoconiosis – any process entailing exposure to mineral dusts harmful to the lungs” and in that respect it falls under exactly the same category of disease as asbestosis.

Conclusion

It can only be hoped that now the risks associated with the disease have been recognised, it will not have the same effect on the working population that asbestos had, where its use continued for many years before changes were made to work practices and use of the substance was eventually phased out in Australia.

The information published in this paper is of a general nature and should not be construed as legal advice. Whilst we aim to provide timely, relevant and accurate information, the law may change and circumstances may differ. You should not therefore act in reliance on it without first obtaining specific legal advice.