What is Silicosis? Can I Claim Compensation if I am Diagnosed with Silicosis?
With increasing numbers of workers being diagnosed with silicosis, it is evident that further education and changes in the work, health and safety surrounding silica dust are urgently required.
It is important that anyone who may be regularly exposed silica dust is informed about the risks, as well as their rights, including their potential rights to compensation (especially if their exposure to silica dust occurs during the course of their employment).
What is silicosis?
Silicosis is a type of lung disease, caused by inhaling silica dust. Silica is another term for quartz, which is a very common mineral, often used for stone bench tops in new homes. Silica can also be found in many other common materials such as bricks, granite, drywall, roofing tiles, plaster and concrete. During the silica cutting process, silica dust can be inhaled into tiny parts of the lungs where they are unable to be transferred into the blood stream or ejected by coughing.
Silica dust causes inflammation and scarring (called nodules) to the lungs. Silicosis symptoms include shortness of breath, fever, fatigue, coughing and weight loss. The disease can cause your skin to turn blue. The more frequent a person is exposed to breathing in silica dust, the more likely they are to suffer symptoms and contract silicosis as a result.
Silicosis increases the risk of tuberculosis and/or respiratory failure, and can be fatal. Progressive Massive Fibrosis can occur when the nodules begin to join together, causing a massive disability to the lungs and the inability for a person to breathe. Research has also linked silicosis to a number of other diseases, including emphysema, lung cancer, and some auto immune diseases.
How is silicosis detected?
Silicosis can be detected by x-ray. An x-ray can identify whether a person has any nodules in their lungs and if nodules are found, immediate action should be taken to prevent any further nodules being created by avoiding any future possibility of silica inhalation. Lung function testing may also be useful to determine whether any nodules that are found are affecting your ability to breathe and use the full capacity of your lungs.
How can silicosis be treated and/or prevented?
As silicosis is caused by the inhalation of silica dust, it is imperative that anyone who works in an environment where silica is disturbed, protective equipment such as breathing masks should be worn at all times to prevent the dust from reaching the lungs.
Unfortunately there is currently no treatment for silicosis, other than a lung transplant.
If you or someone you know are working in an environment which involves work around silica and silica dust, it is important to understand and be aware of the risks involved. Your employer has a responsibility to ensure that your work is undertaken in a safe and hazardous free environment, including an environment free of the risk of silica inhalation.
What should I do if I have been exposed to silica dust?
If you have been exposed to silica dust, it is important that you see a doctor and obtain a chest x-ray to out-rule any damage which may have already been caused. Preventative measures should be taken to ensure you are not further exposed to silica dust, as well as other hazards which could damage the lungs, such as smoking.
Silicosis can develop as soon as one year after exposure, but usually the disease is diagnosed approximately 10-15 years later.
If you are diagnosed with silicosis, it is important to notify and make a claim through your employer’s workers compensation insurer to ensure that the diagnosis and symptoms are recorded at an early stage, and your condition can be monitored and related expenses paid for.
To date no claims (such as class actions) have been launched against the manufacturers of products that contain silica, but this has not been ruled out for the future.
For more information about Silicosis, visit:
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland - “Silica and the lung”
Lung Foundation Australia - “What is Silica?”
Safety Australia Group - “What is silicosis and why is this old lung disease making a comeback?”
Know your rights to claim compensation
If you have been exposed to silica or diagnosed with silicosis and you wish to make a claim, we would be happy to meet with you to understand your circumstances and provide further information and legal advice concerning your rights to claim compensation for your injury.