Thu. May 30th, 2024
alert-–-tradies-with-silicosis-demand-albo-honours-his-pledge-to-ban-engineered-stone-–-with-warnings-10,000-could-dieAlert – Tradies with silicosis demand Albo honours his pledge to ban engineered stone – with warnings 10,000 could die

EXCLUSIVE 

Tradies left permanently incapacitated with silicosis have slammed the federal Government for taking so long to ban engineered stone products. 

The Albanese Labor government will finally hold ‘initial discussions’ about a Safe Work Australia report considering whether potentially deadly engineered stone should be banned. 

More than 600,000 workers across the nation have been exposed to respirable crystalline silica, which can lead to silicosis: a debilitating and incurable form of lung disease.

Unions and tradesmen impacted by the disease have been calling on the government to ban the product, but have faced significant pushback from the industry, which is arguing the solution is safe work practices.

For stonemason Joshua Suwa, 35, the diagnosis has turned his world upside down.

‘I was doing well in my career, I was the provider for my family; We have two young beautiful boys, and now I can’t work in any field that uses my hands, I can’t really play physically with the kids – it is very tough,’ he said.

Speaking to Daily Mail Australia on Tuesday, the father-of-two said he absolutely supports a full ban of the product, but questioned the motives of the slow-acting government.

‘I honestly think it generates a lot of money, the government still want it to be around, regardless of how potent it is and how much it’s affected people’s lives.’

Australian tradies in their 20s and 30s are falling desperately ill with lung diseases, many from working with a popular stone used in swanky kitchen renovations (Pictured, silicosis sufferer Joshua Suwa, 34, with his wife Erin and children Hudson and Lenny)

Mr Suwa (pictured) developed silicosis and scleroderma after working as a stonemason for nine years, five of them in Sydney and four in Melbourne

He said he appreciates the union’s decision to take a stronger stance against engineered stone, knowing first hand the damage it can do. 

Mr Suwa played soccer to a high level in western Sydney and developed the disease after working as a stonemason producing and cutting engineered stone for kitchen renovations between 2015 and 2019.

‘Breathing is difficult, even as I’m talking now, I have to be sitting down. I can’t walk and talk at the same time,’ he said.

Damage to his lungs has not worsened, but the auto-immune condition he has as a result of his diagnosis ’causes him plenty of grief’. 

Anthony Albanese met with silicosis survivors in 2021 to discuss the crisis, vowing to fight for workers’ rights if he were to be elected.

‘Everyone has the right to be safe at work. But these workers weren’t,’ he said.

‘We needed a national effort to tackle asbestos and the cruel diseases it causes. And we need a national effort to tackle silicosis.

‘I pledge that a Labor Government will stand up for workers affected by silica dust.’

Joanna McNeill, now 36, was in her 20s when she was exposed to silica while working on a quarry. Now, even catching a common cold could prove deadly

Mr Suwa is desperate to stick around as long as possible to see the two boys he and partner Erin have – Hudson, 5, and Lenny, 2 – grow up (Pictured, Mr Suwa and his partner Erin and their boys)

Now, Mr Albanese’s government has been accused of not taking a tough enough stance on engineered stone.

READ MORE: The hardworking tradies falling victim to tragic condition 

The Australian Council of Trade Unions on Tuesday said it would take steps to ‘ban engineered stone’ themselves if the government fails to act.

‘This will mean union members will not allow engineered stone to be transported or used on building sites across Australia,’ the ACTU said.

ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien said: ‘Safe working conditions enjoyed by workers today were not given to us by governments or employers they were fought for and won by workers and their unions. 

‘Today the ACTU executive sends a clear message that governments should ban this harmful fashion product.’

‘We welcome the decision earlier this year of WHS Ministers to introduce stronger silica rules covering all work but we must do more to ban deadly fashion product.’

In March of 2018 Gold Coast man Anthony White, 36, (pictured) became the first recorded stonemason to die after contracting silicosis

Bunnings was most recently called upon to act by banning its range of trendy kitchen benchtops.

The engineered benchtops, which have become a feature in many Australian kitchens and bathrooms, contain a high concentration of crystalline silica. 

The silica dust from cutting the engineered stone benchtops can lead to the potentially deadly disease silicosis as well as lung cancer.

Silicosis is incurable and is caused by inhaling tiny particles of silica dust.

Joanna McNeill, now 36, was in her 20s when she was exposed to silica while working on a quarry.

Now, even catching a common cold could prove deadly.

And Ben Harrison, 34, has been battling silicosis, a long-term lung disease caused by inhaling unsafe amounts of silica dust, for more than four years.

Anthony Albanese met with silicosis survivors in 2021 to discuss the crisis, vowing to fight for workers’ rights if he were to be elected

He shared these two photos from the meeting, and vowed to stand up for silicosis survivors  

Mr Harrison likely inhaled the toxic particles while cutting into silicon-based kitchen benchtops while working as a stonemason on the Gold Coast.

His wife Cristale told Daily Mail Australia last month: ‘We’re living a nightmare of uncertainty every day.’

In a video filmed for Lung Foundation Australia, Mr Harrison said: ‘I’ve got three young children who I don’t think I will see graduate school. 

‘I live with that every day.’ 

Mr Harrison said there are days when he cannot get out of bed, and that he’ll never work again. 

The federal government received a report from Safe Work Australia in August investigating a potential ban on engineered stone. It is yet to release the findings.

A spokesperson for Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Tony Burke told Daily Mail Australia ‘initial discussions about the Safe Work Australia silicosis report’ will be held between federal, state and territory Work Health and Safety Ministers this Friday.

A spokesperson for Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Tony Burke told Daily Mail Australia ‘initial discussions about the Safe Work Australia silicosis report’ will be held between federal, state and territory Work Health and Safety Ministers this Friday

Tradie Ben Harrison (pictured top left with his wife, Cristale Mccormick, and their three children), 34, has been battling silicosis, a long-term lung disease caused by inhaling unsafe amounts of silica dust for years

‘The Albanese Government believes no one should ever contract a terminal illness simply because they’ve turned up to work. That’s why we asked Safe Work Australia to prepare this important report,’ he said.

‘The Commonwealth will be asking the meeting to agree to publicly release the report to inform the public debate as further decisions are made.’

A spokesperson for the Australian Engineered Stone Advisory Group said the move to ban engineered stone benchtops will do nothing to help those bearing the brunt of the deadly disease. 

‘A full ban on engineered stone will not solve silicosis and will instead create significant disruption in the housing industry and uncertainty for consumers,’ the spokesperson said. 

‘The proposed ban being pushed by unions will protect just 0.7% of workers exposed to silica in the workplace, while doing nothing for the other 1.4 million.’

‘The engineered stone industry supports any efforts to improve the safety of workers. It believes a better approach is a ban on engineered stone with 40% or more silica from next year and a pathway to even lower levels.’

Kathryn Townsend, a dust diseases litigation expert at Shine Lawyers, said the responsibility to ban these products should not be placed on employees.

‘The federal government has all the evidence it needs to justify a ban on engineered stone,’ she said.

‘We know exposure to toxic silica dust causes silicosis and debilitating autoimmune diseases like scleroderma.

READ MORE: The Block slammed for promoting product

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‘If the federal government continues to do nothing, more workers will get sick and their lives will be pointlessly cut short.’

The previous Coalition government set up a national dust diseases taskforce to investigate ways to limit exposure to silica, as an increasing number of young, otherwise healthy people were diagnosed with silicosis. 

The taskforce said engineered stone products should be banned from July next year if significant safety improvements had not been made. 

Cases of silicosis are on the rise as more than 600,000 Aussie workers are exposed to silica dust and 40 per cent of tradies are unaware of the risks of exposure.

Modelling by Curtin University, released earlier this year, estimated that up to 103,000 tradies will be diagnosed in their lifetime with silicosis as a result of exposure to silica dust at work.

More than 10,000 will develop lung cancer.

Mr Albanese’s government has been accused of not taking a tough enough stance on engineered stone

WHAT IS SILICOSIS 

Silicosis is a lung disease caused by breathing in tiny bits of silica, a mineral that is part of sand, rock, and mineral ores such as quartz.

It mostly affects workers exposed to silica dust in occupations such mining, glass manufacturing, and foundry work.

Over time, exposure to silica particles causes scarring in the lungs, which can harm your ability to breathe.

KEY FACTS:

There are three types of silicosis: acute, chronic, and accelerated.

It occurs in workers from mines, foundries, sandblasting, and glass manufacturing.

There is no cure for silicosis, but it can be prevented.

Silicosis is caused when materials such as artificial stone bench tops are dry cut and workers inhale tiny particles of silica dust. Pictured: A chest x-ray image demonstrating the impact silicosis has on the lungs in red)

HOW IT AFFECTS THE BODY:

Silicosis affects the lungs by damaging the lining of the lung air sacs. 

Once this begins, it leads to scarring and, in some situations, to a condition called progressive massive fibrosis. 

This condition happens when there is severe scarring and stiffening of the lung, which makes it difficult to breathe.

People with acute silicosis experience cough, weight loss, tiredness, and may have fever or a sharp chest pain. 

You may also have shortness of breath over time, especially with chronic silicosis.

 

 

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