Young tradies speak up over ‘epidemic’ rise in silicosis cases

Young tradies speak up over ‘epidemic’ rise in silicosis cases

Two young Aussie tradies have spoken to the media about developing life-threatening conditions from working with engineered stone products. The rise in silicosis cases is nothing short of an ‘epidemic’, with new research from Curtin University estimating that “around 10,390 Australians are predicted to develop lung cancer in their lifetime” and “around 584,050 Australian workers are currently exposed to respirable crystalline silica (RCS).”

The two men highlight that the disease is no longer affecting people who have worked in dated or dangerous working conditions in the past, with young workers being diagnosed with lung diseases as little as five years after beginning their careers. The average latency period for silicosis is between 10-30 years. 

The two young men who spoke to the Daily Mail explained that they are both likely to have their lives cut short due to respirable dust exposure at work. 

Hak Kim is 27 and is on the waiting list for a lung transplant following dangerous dust exposure at demolition sites between the ages of 20-24. Joshua Suwa, from Western Sydney, is 34 and developed the disease after working as a stonemason between 2015 and 2019.

Mr Suma confirmed he has received compensation but says because the illness could have been prevented through appropriate protections at work, it means very little. 

The rise in silicosis in young workers highlights the requirement for tight safety controls around silica-containing products. The Australian government established a federal task force last year, which noted that health and safety regulations don’t go far enough to protect workers from dust diseases and exposure on worksites.

Engineered stone is common in Australia and was included in the federal task force report last year, but the report stopped short of recommending an outright ban on the product.

The task force did recommend that Australia prepare to ban some or all of the product’s imports from July 2024 in the absence of industry-wide changes. To that end, dry cutting is now banned, and wet masonry saws are mandatory for cutting engineered stone.

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