A Melbourne father has been diagnosed with debilitating silicosis, discovered only due to a persistent cough.
Jack Gray was a smoker and thought it was merely a symptom of that, and getting older.
As a stonemason from the age of 19, Mr Gray was motivated to have it checked out amid rapidly increasing cases of silicosis in those in the industry.
“It wasn’t until a year ago I went in and said (to my doctors) ‘It’s not right, I’ve had this cough for three years and it’s pretty bad’. And they said we’ll do some chest X-rays and that’s when they found out,” Mr Gray told News.com.
The prognosis for silicosis – an irreversible lung disease caused by exposure to crystalline silica dust, commonly found in stone masons and the engineered stone cutting industries – is that it is incurable.
Treatment for silicosis, and the likely option for Mr Gray, often involves a lung transplant and almost certainly requires an oxygen tank in order to breathe.
For Mr Gray, the most difficult part is how debilitating the disease has become, so rapidly. He has been told he will be unable to work again, and he struggles with normal tasks.
“It sucks, I’m exhausted, even talking now I get puffed,” he said.
“I can’t kick the footy with the kids. I used to love wakeboarding and snowboarding, kicking footy with the kids and playing.”
While WorkCover is currently provided, Mr Gray is also taking civil action against his former employer. Mr Gray’s lawyer, Roger Singh, is actively representing 19 other clients in similar cases across the country, while Slater and Gordon have launched a class action against the manufacturers of stone kitchen benchtops.
“We’re not surprised with the dramatic rise in diagnoses that we’re seeing across the country. We’re representing and currently speaking with workers all around the country,” Mr Singh said to News.com.
“The number of affected stonemasons is indicative of the epidemic we’re faced with due to unsafe workplace practices associated with cutting and fabricating engineered stone which contains lethal silica dust.
“This national crisis needs to be tackled with a co-ordinated response at federal level.”
In July, the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt announced the establishment of a “National Dust Disease Taskforce to develop a national approach to the prevention, early identification, control and management of dust diseases in Australia.”
There will be interim findings delivered before the end of 2019.