Stonemasons are putting off health checks, fearing financial ruin as a silent killer continues to cripple families.
Stonemasons are putting off health checks, fearing financial ruin as a silent killer continues to cripple families.

‘Put up or shut up’: The scary truth behind silent killer

HUNDREDS of young Gold Coast men are refusing to get tested for silicosis in fear they'll become unemployable and unable to feed their families.

"It's a travesty," said social worker Judith Thomson. "People are choosing not to get tested because they're worried they'll go from earning $1500 a week, paying a mortgage and caring for their family, to being out of work with no financial support."

Young stonemasons are avoiding lung xrays in fear they'll become unemployable if diagnosed with silicosis.
Young stonemasons are avoiding lung xrays in fear they'll become unemployable if diagnosed with silicosis.

Mrs Thomson facilitates the Silicosis Support Network, which has a group on the Gold Coast on behalf of the Asbestos Disease Support Society.

The network was set up in 2018 after Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace issued a safety alert for engineered stone benchtop workers following an increase in compensation claims for silicosis.

"Unlike asbestosis which mainly affects those in their 60s or 70s, silicosis affects younger men in their prime who are working hard to ensure their family is financially secure," Mrs Thomson said.

"There's a huge sense of isolation from friends, society and insecurity and their self-esteem. We're also seeing a lot of anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses."

Gold Coast stonemasons diagnosed with silicosis are usually in their 30s and working hard to ensure their family’s financial security and become depressed and anxious about their future.
Gold Coast stonemasons diagnosed with silicosis are usually in their 30s and working hard to ensure their family’s financial security and become depressed and anxious about their future.

Mrs Thomson said engineered stone was cheap and wasn't banned because it was a mass-produced, in-demand product that could make a "beautiful stone kitchen or bathroom at a very reasonable cost".

"Like asbestos issues in the '60s, where it was evident that asbestos was harmful, we are aware that consistent exposure to silica dust is harmful, and potentially deadly."

She said, initially, restrictions and safety strategies were mandated to handle asbestos but through the determined advocacy of victims, asbestos was finally banned.

"Similarly, in 2020 we have safety restrictions in place to address the issues of silica products (engineered stone) like 'wet-cutting' as opposed to dry-cutting with engineered stone

Two works conducting dry cutting in a south east Queensland work site: Photo by WHSQ
Two works conducting dry cutting in a south east Queensland work site: Photo by WHSQ

"This is mandatory in some but not all states, Queensland being one to lead the way. This still only reduces the danger, it doesn't eliminate it.

"Within the industry there are allegations of 'put up and shut up' in the workplace. However, I also hear of employers working hard to do the right thing for their workers."

Mrs Thomson said support group attendees overwhelmingly agreed that there should be a ban on man-made stone because "it's a product that is killing people".

"I feel we as a community must start listening to these guys and start acting in their best interest. Not enough is being done to stop young men from dying from this."

The Silicosis Support Network can be contacted on 1800 776 412.

Originally published as 'Put up or shut up': The scary truth behind silent killer


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