Compensation for Silicosis – latent work-related disease and injury

The recent prevalence of silicosis has raised grave concerns for some workers and their families across Australia.

Silicosis is an irreversible and (often) fatal lung disease caused by inhaling tiny particles of silica dust which contains respirable crystalline silica. According to WorkSafe Australia silica dust is produced from ‘mechanical processes such as crushing, cutting, drilling, grinding, sawing or polishing’ products containing silica.

Urgent warnings for engineered stone benchtop workers

Silicosis is a form of pneumoconiosis, a disease traditionally linked to coal mine workers. Recently, however silicosis has been diagnosed in a number of engineered stone benchtop workers who use dry-cut methods to process imported artificial stone. Engineered stone is a relatively new product, used for kitchen and bathroom benchtops, and contains much higher levels (up to 90%) of crystalline silica, than natural products such as marble or granite, which contain around 5%.

An urgent health warning for workers in the engineered stone benchtop industry has been issued by the Queensland Government with the Minister for Industrial Relations, Hon. Grace Grace declaring a ban on dry cutting of artificial stone.

The Government has also introduced a health screen program for past and present dry-cut manufacturing industry workers across Queensland and is formulating a new code of practice to control silica exposure within the industry.

Compensation for work-related latent diseases

Work-related diseases are acute, recurring or chronic health issues suffered as a result of certain work conditions or practices. Silicosis and other respiratory diseases such as asbestos-related conditions, coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, coal dust lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic bronchitis and occupational asthma are examples of such illnesses.

These are often described as latent onset diseases because they are typically acquired over a period of time (although not always a long period) and they are not immediately obvious.

Workers suffering from a work-related disease may be able to claim compensation.

Workers compensation is a no-fault statutory scheme which supports workers who are injured or become ill as a consequence of performing their usual work duties. The compensation scheme is set out in the Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld) and administered by WorkCover Queensland.

Workers compensation entitlements may include:

  • loss of wages;
  • medical treatment costs including surgical and screening expenses;
  • rehabilitation treatment and equipment expenses;
  • travel costs associated with medical treatment;
  • lump sum payments for permanent impairment;
  • additional lump sum payments for a pneumoconiosis condition;
  • lump sum benefits for terminal respiratory diseases.

Identifying the specific avenues for pursuing a claim for compensation will depend on the disease diagnosed, its effect on your health and life expectancy and treatment options.

A work damages claim is a claim made against an employer for disease or injury caused due to the employer’s negligence. These claims follow an initial workers compensation claim made through the statutory scheme.

A successful claim for work injury damages must show that the injury suffered was caused by the negligence of the employer or somebody under the employer’s control.

Certain medical research indicates that work-related illnesses such as silicosis and other respiratory diseases are caused or exacerbated by exposure to certain harmful elements. In a recent article in the Brisbane Times the Hon. Grace Grace, reported that, ‘…an audit of 10 engineered stone benchtop manufacturers uncovered poor work practices, including uncontrolled dry cutting and grinding, inadequate ventilation and a lack of personal protection equipment, such as respiratory masks’.

Free health screening for certain workers

Workers who are exposed, or have been exposed, to airborne dust, mist, fibre, fumes, vapours or gas in their work environment may be at risk of suffering from a work-related respiratory disease.

Queensland current and former engineered stone benchtop workers may access free health screening through WorkCover Queensland.

Former or retired Queensland coal workers who ceased working in the coal industry prior to 1 January 2017 may be eligible for a free lung disease examination through WorkCover. Eligible workers must show they were employed in an industry which involved the mining, loading, transporting or dealing with coal and had exposure to coal dust for six months.

 

Conclusion

Work-related illnesses have, and continue to have, a devastating impact on many workers and their families.

If you have been diagnosed with a work-related illness, we recommend you obtain legal advice to ensure your rights are fully protected. Workers compensation law is complex. It is important that you are fully informed of the options to pursue compensation to obtain the best treatment possible and assist you and your family throughout your ordeal.

If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on 07 5538 2766 or email jeff@dwyerlaw.com.au today and please ask about our No Win No Fee policy.

 

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