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Silicosis and Stonemasons

In recent weeks media attention has been focused on increasing numbers of workers, particularly stonemasons, being diagnosed with silicosis.

Silicosis is an aggressive and incurable lung disease which results from breathing in silica (sand) dust. Silica is contained in construction materials such as concrete, bricks, tiles, sandstone and granite. When these materials are drilled, cut, crushed and worked with, tiny particles of silica dust are released into the air. The particles may be so fine that they cannot be seen, and you do not know you are breathing them in.

Persons are usually diagnosed with silicosis after working in a dusty environment for decades however, very high exposure can cause acute silicosis that develops within weeks or months. Persons who develop silicosis suffer from symptoms including shortness of breath, severe cough, chest pain and fatigue. Silicosis is generally a progressive condition and can lead to death. A diagnosis of silicosis also greatly increases a person’s chance of contracting lung cancer.

Recent cases of silicosis have involved workers installing engineering stone, often used to make kitchen, bathroom and laundry benchtops, which is made from crushed stone being bound together and contains a high silica concentration of up to 90%.

If you are diagnosed with silicosis, then you may have rights to both statutory compensation (with the Dust Diseases Authority) and a claim at common law.

The Dust Diseases Authority is a statutory body of the NSW Government that provides compensation in the form of a weekly pension where a person can no longer work and payment of medical and other expenses if a person has contracted a dust disease such as silicosis because of exposure to dust while employed in NSW. An application to the Dust Diseases Authority is an administrative process and requires you to undergo a medical examination and provide a work history. Your work history and the results of the medical examination are considered by the Medical Panel consisting of 3 respiratory specialists who determine whether you are suffering from silicosis and, if so, your percentage level of disability. This will determine the amount of pension that is awarded to you.

All persons exposed to dust in NSW are eligible to make an application to the Dust Diseases Authority and undergo a free medical examination. Once you are registered with the Dust Diseases Authority then you will be regularly recalled to undergo a medical examination every 1 to 3 years.

In addition to any rights you may have with the Dust Diseases Authority, a person who has been diagnosed with silicosis has a right to bring a claim at common law against their former employer or an occupier of a site they worked on. In NSW claims for silicosis are brought in the Dust Diseases Tribunal of NSW, which has specialised procedures to allow claims to run quickly and efficiently. In other States, claims are brought in the District or Supreme Court in special dust diseases lists.

A claim at common law is for lump sum compensation. To be successful you need to prove that you have contracted silicosis because of exposure to silica dust during the course of your employment or on work sites owned and/or controlled by the defendant and that the defendant failed to take adequate precautions to prevent your exposure to silica dust. If you are successful then you will receive lump sum compensation to compensate you for pain and suffering, loss of life expectancy, out-of-pocket expenses, the need for care and assistance and, if you can no longer work, economic loss.

Segelov Taylor specialises in acting for persons suffering from dust diseases including silicosis. Tanya Segelov has represented persons suffering from silicosis for over 20 years.

Segelov Taylor acts in all silicosis matters on a ‘no win no fee’ basis. This means you will only pay our costs if you are successful in obtaining compensation.

If you have any questions in relation to a potential claim for silicosis, then please contact our office and we will provide you with free comprehensive advice as to any rights you have to claim both statutory and common law entitlements.

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