Autoimmune diseases also linked to deadly silica dust

Silica dust can also cause autoimmune diseases.

Silica dust can also cause autoimmune diseases.

There’s growing awareness around the dangers of silica dust causing silicosis, but there’s less known about the autoimmune diseases it can also cause.

Crystalline silica dust has a proven link to autoimmune diseases, including scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

These conditions can occur in people already impacted by dust diseases such as silicosis, which has begun to emerge in increasing numbers of Australian workers cutting, drilling and polishing engineered stone.

It’s also a problem affecting workers from many other industries, including civil construction (tunnelling, roads and other large-scale infrastructure), mining, manufacturing, quarrying, general construction and plumbing.

The rise in cases came with the popularity of stone benchtops, which have grown since the early 2000s, and the pace of public infrastructure and other concrete-based manufacturing, which has exploded in Australia.

This year the Albanese government has taken steps to become the first country in the world to ban engineered stone products in response to the rising rates of silicosis.

Federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke has asked Safe Work Australia to investigate a future ban on engineered stone. State and territory health ministers have supported the move.

Call for compensation

Hundreds of workers have taken their employers to court and are now also calling for compensation for suffering autoimmune diseases associated with silica exposure.

This includes a woman who spent almost 20 years working at a silica milling factory in Victoria. She developed lupus and silicosis.

Lupus is an inflammatory disease caused when the immune system attacks its own tissues, commonly affecting the joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs.

In March, WorkSafe VIC insurers accepted her compensation claim in what was thought to be an Australia-first decision.

She was one of seven workers claiming compensation for autoimmune conditions in Victoria, including scleroderma and rheumatoid arthritiscontracted as a result of exposure to silica dust.

There are many more workers around Australia who are similarly claiming compensation for silica-induced autoimmune diseases, including in Queensland and New South Wales. And the numbers are only growing.

Proven link to autoimmune conditions

Medical studies have revealed an excess prevalence of autoimmune diseases such as scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus in people who have been exposed to silica dust.

Rheumatoid arthritis is linked to breathing in crystalline silica dust. Photo: Getty Images. 

A recent study by Danish researchers examined the health of more than 16,000 workers exposed to high levels of breathable crystalline silica.

The study, released in the International Journal of Epidemiology in January, found an increased incidence of systemic sclerosis (scleroderma) and rheumatoid arthritis.

Scleroderma is a disease of the body’s connective tissue resulting in a thickening and hardening of the skin, particularly of the hands and face.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes joint pain and inflammation, commonly in the hands, knees and feet. In severe cases, it can lead to the need for total knee and hip replacements.

If you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition in connection with silicosis, you may be entitled to financial compensation.

If you have been diagnosed with silicosis, you may be entitled to financial compensation. Get legal advice from Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, they have extensive experience in silica dust-related issues. Contact them on 1800 763 192 for a free consultation.

If you have been diagnosed with silicosis, it’s important to understand the options available to you. Maurice Blackburn Lawyers has extensive experience in dust-related diseases. It costs nothing to know where you stand.

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