Silicosis is a serious irreversible lung disease that causes permanent disability and can be fatal. It is caused by the inhalation of silica dust.
Silicosis and other silica related conditions are caused through inhalation of very small particles of silica dust that are breathed deep into the lungs and cause inflammation and scarring.
It was prevalent in the 1940s to 1960s particularly among construction and demolition workers until safer work practices reduced the number of cases. However there has been a resurgence of silicosis from the mid 2010s in Australia particularly with people working with manufactured stone such as Caesarstone during the manufacturing of kitchen and bathroom benchtops.
Sandstone also has a very high silica content and is prevalent on the east coast of NSW, particularly in the Sydney basin where the excavation of Hawkesbury sandstone is necessary during the course of road construction, tunnel construction and other developments.
Such excavation work creates high levels of silica dust. Consequently, labourers and construction workers who work on these projects are at risk of developing silica diseases. Foundry workers and pottery or ceramic workers can also be exposed to high levels of silica dust during the course of their work, placing them at risk of developing silica diseases.
Workers with silicosis tend to be a younger age than workers with other dust diseases and are usually aged between 40-60 so tend to be still of working age.
Authorities have taken measures including making silicosis a notifiable condition under the Public Health Act, banning uncontrolled dry cutting of manufactured stone and implementing revised workplace exposure standards for respirable crystalline silica.
If you have been diagnosed with silicosis as a consequence of exposure to silica at work you can make a claim on both the Dust Diseases Authority (icare) for statutory compensation as well as a claim against your employer at common law in negligence.
Common law claims are brought in the Dust Diseases Tribunal, a specialist court which hears cases about dust diseases.
Entitlement to statutory compensation to icare includes statutory weekly payments as well as payment of medical expenses, lawn mowing, travel and domestic assistance.
Michelle Walsh is a partner at Turner Freeman Lawyers and specialises in dust disease compensation and has been recognised by Doyle's Guide in 2021 and 2022 as a recommended lawyer in NSW for dust disease litigation.