‘Horrendous’ disease hits tradies
ANTHONY White should be in the prime of his life.
But instead, the 36-year-old is battling a debilitating and incurable disease which has nearly taken his life.
WARNING: Distressing image below
Late last year, the Gold Coast stonemason developed a chest infection which wouldn't clear up and he quickly lost a lot of weight.
His concerned mum told him to see a doctor, and in November he was given the shocking news - he had been struck down by silicosis.
The progressive, irreversible lung disease is caused by long-term exposure to silica dust, which is created when artificial or engineered stone is cut.
It can take up to 15 years to develop, and symptoms can include shortness of breath, cough, fever, cyanosis (bluish skin) and frequent chest infections, which can eventually lead to lung transplants and even death.
Mr White recently developed a viral infection as a result of the disease which saw him rushed to intensive care.
His devastated mother Dianne said something needed to be done to protect other young lives.
"We could have lost him but he's still fighting on and we are just taking it day by day at the moment," she said.
"We can't let this go on killing our young men. I don't care how we do it, with legislation or fines, it just needs to be done.
"Anthony's case isn't a one-off, there are going to be many young men affected like this and his condition is only going to get worse."
Mr White handled and cut artificial stone products for a decade before falling ill.
Now, he's speaking out from his sick bed in a desperate bid to raise awareness.
"I want to make sure no one else has to go through this. It's been absolutely horrendous for me and my family who have had to watch me get sicker and sicker," he said in a statement.
"Wearing protective gear wasn't policed at any of my workplaces.
"There was so much dust flying around, you could feel the grit on your teeth and taste the dust in your mouth, but I didn't think it was a problem. I had no idea it could make you this sick.
"I would personally like to see rules enforced so nobody cuts it dry in any workplace anywhere in Australia. It's dangerous and it's putting lives at risk."
Mr White's message is all the more urgent because, while silicosis deaths are dropping globally, there has been an alarming spike in cases among Aussie tradies believed to be linked to cutting engineered or artificial stone products used to make kitchen benchtops.
The toxic dust has been dubbed "the new asbestos", and a 2017 Queensland Parliamentary inquiry into Coal Workers' Pneumoconiosis (Black Lung) was told silica was "more dangerous than coalmine dust".
Employment law experts Shine Lawyers are now calling for an urgent national ban on dry cutting techniques in workshops along with tougher penalties for company breaches, with the firm now speaking with six Aussie tradespeople who have developed the deadly illness.
Shine Lawyers' dust diseases expert Roger Singh said we need to learn from the "awful legacy of asbestos" and take action now to prevent potential deaths.
"The current method of dry cutting artificial stone creates plumes of dust which if inhaled over long periods can potentially lead to silicosis. We know wet cutting, using water to damp down the dust, is much safer but there is no regulation of the industry to enforce this practise," Mr Singh said.
"We are now speaking with stonemasons who tell us that despite the awareness that's been raised the dry cutting continues in their workplaces - and wet cutting systems and enforcement of proper face masks that could prevent disease are not being installed.
"We cannot let this continue. Australians deserve safe workplaces."
He said silicosis was a "horrific disease" which could lead to a "terrible death".
The firm is calling on all state and territory governments to make the regulation and enforcement of artificial stone work practises a priority, as well as the introduction of tougher penalties and fines for workshops that don't comply.
Stonemasons are also urged to see a doctor for a health check and lung scan.
Mr Singh said he hoped the campaign would lead to a parliamentary inquiry and the eradication of the deadly dry cutting practice.
"We wouldn't let something as dangerous as this happen in other workplaces, so we have to ask why it is being allowed to happen in workshops. Why are stonemasons considered to be dispensable? That is the issue," he said.
He said the problem had been ignored so far as workshops had been able to fly under the radar and continue the deadly practice without scrutiny.