How carting, cutting and installing stone benchtops left Kevin living a nightmare

Working with silica can present health dangers for workers.

Working with silica can present health dangers for workers. Photo: Getty

Stone benchtops are a common feature in kitchens across Australia. But few people know about the risks involved to the tradespeople preparing these benchtops.

Kevin Badenoch, 50, has worked as a stonemason for over 18 years. He now suffers from two progressive silica related conditions – silica-related scleroderma, which primarily affects his fingers, and silica-related lymphadenopathy, which is enlarged lymph nodes caused by exposure to silica dust.

“My fingers get ulcerated, and over the years, they don’t get better sort of thing, so everything’s a deadset nightmare,” he said.

“Life is horrible when you try to do anything. I can’t use my fingers. Sometimes it’s a struggle to make a coffee, and even just running my fingers under water can bring tears to my eyes.”

“There’s a lot of things that are a real struggle.”

What are silica related conditions?

Silica related conditions are diseases are caused by exposure to silica dust. Silica is found in stone, sand, concrete and mortar. It is used to make composite stone for benchtops, bricks, tiles and some plastics.

Silicosis is the most common silica related condition, and is a debilitating and incurable lung disease. Silicosis causes scarring of the lungs and, in some cases, develops into severe respiratory diseases, such as progressive massive fibrosis. In the end stages of the disease, people with silicosis are unable to breathe and gradually suffocate to death.

It is a preventable disease, but there has been a dramatic spike in cases, with a particularly high number of young men in their 20s and 30s.

Silicosis was common in Australia in the 1940s to 1960s, particularly in men working in construction and demolition. However, growing awareness of the disease and how to prevent it by wearing face masks and monitoring air quality reduced the number of cases.

The resurgence of cases is blamed on the recent popularity of stone and engineered stone benchtops.

Who does it impact?

Stonemasons are overrepresented in the number of people diagnosed with silica related conditions, but they aren’t the only ones.

“There are increasing rates in other industries in which silica dust is a problem,” explained Jonathan Walsh,  a Principal Lawyer in the Dust Diseases team at Maurice Blackburn.

“Anywhere where rock dust is created, and that dust has some content of silica in it, silicosis is definitely a risk to that particular worker.”

This could include anyone exposed to silica dust working in excavation, mining, quarrying, tunnelling, abrasive blasting and brick, concrete or stone cutting.

Kevin Badenoch

Kevin Badenoch suffers silica-related illnesses. Photo: Supplied

Symptoms of silica related conditions

Symptoms of silica related lung conditions, such as silicosis, include coughing, shortness of breath and tiredness. But, in the early stages of the disease, there may be no symptoms, and it may go undetected for months or even years.

For Kevin, the diagnosis of his silica related conditions came as a shock.

“I was getting really cold fingers and toes, and I eventually went for a blood test, and I was told I had scleroderma,” he said.

“When they told me, I was shocked because I’d never heard about it before. It was a big wake-up call when I went to see the specialist.

What should you do if you suspect you have been exposed to silica dust?

The first place to start is with a GP check-up, said Jonathan.

“If you’ve got concerns, go to your GP,” he said.

“Inform them of your occupational exposure and then get referred for a chest X-ray or CT scan at the very least. That should start the process to determine whether you have a problem with lung disease.”

Kevin advises getting out of the industry immediately.

“I’d say get out of it as quick as you can, but unfortunately, once you get a diagnosis, whether you get out or not, it’s too late,” he said.

If you have been diagnosed with a silica related condition, you may be entitled to financial compensation.

Get legal advice from Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, they have extensive experience in dust-related issues. Contact them on 1800 763 192 for a free consultation. Continuing to work in a dangerous work environment may be one of the worst things you can do for your health.

If you have been diagnosed with an illness linked to exposure at your work it’s important to understand the options available to you.

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers has extensive experience in dust-related diseases. Continuing to work in a dangerous work environment may be one of the worst things you can do for your health.

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