Australia’s construction union is instructing workers to put down their tools if the federal government doesn’t ban engineered stone workbenches used in kitchens.
Stone benches, when cut or polished, emit a particularly potent type of dust containing tiny crystals of silica that can be inhaled.
The banks have caused more than 600 workers in NSW, Victoria and Queensland to be diagnosed with life-threatening silicosis, a long-term lung disease caused by inhaling large amounts of silica dust.
The worrying rise in silicosis prompted the Construction Forestry Mining Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) on Wednesday to demand the federal government ban engineering stone imports by July 2024.
Joshua Suwa is unable to work as a bricklayer due to a diagnosis of silicosis. (Pictured: Mr. Suwa uses a wooden fence to stabilize a shelf of artificial stone he is cutting, not wearing a mask)
Silica dust from artificial stone has been pointed out as one of the main culprits in the diagnoses of lung diseases, especially silicosis.
Mr. Suwa is desperate to stay as long as possible to see the two children he and his partner Erin have grow up (in the picture, Mr. Suwa and his partner Erin and their children)
If the government does not enforce the ban, the union will implement its own restrictions by instructing workers to take labor action instead of using the stone product.
“The time for talk is over and now is the time to act,” Secretary Zac Smith told reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday.
‘This is asbestos from the 2000s.’
Victoria and Queensland have already banned dry-cut engineered stone, while the ACT and NSW are considering following suit.
At the federal level, the former coalition government received a report last year recommending banning the import of some or all artificial stone products from July 2024, but no action has yet been taken.
Australian mother of two, Joanna McNeill, 34, was diagnosed with silicosis after working in an administrative position near a quarry.
Joanna McNeill, a 34-year-old mother of two, worked in quarry management and was diagnosed with silicosis when she underwent a routine health assessment last year after returning to work from maternity leave.
Ms. McNeill could feel the quarry dust coating her face and hair as she left her office building to go home each day.
But she had no idea that the tiny particles were slowly scarring her lungs and would one day leave her struggling to breathe.
The disease usually affects professionals who cut and install countertops that use stone.
Daily Mail Australia previously spoke to two men, who should be in the prime of their lives, but are ill after falling ill due to exposure to silica dust while doing construction work.
Both Hak Kim, 27, and Joshua Suwa, 34, could see their lives cut short by breathing dust at work.
Mr. Suwa, a former top soccer player, developed silicosis and scleroderma after working as a bricklayer for nine years, five of them in Sydney and four in Melbourne.
He is desperate to stay to see his two children, Hudson, 5, and Lenny, 2, grow up with his partner Erin.
But he worries that his silicosis will worsen, as it does with most lung diseases.
‘It’s difficult, I don’t know how I’m going to progress with it. I am an extremely positive person, so I will continue to believe, hope, and pray.
I have to spend as much time as possible for my two children.
Kim is on the waiting list for a lung transplant, after inhaling dust every day while working on demolition sites in Melbourne between the ages of 20 and 24.
The $1.6 million Mr. Kim received in compensation for never being given respiratory protection is little comfort, he said.
He was awarded $1.6 million in compensation since he was not instructed to wear a respirator mask on the job, but he says that’s little consolation.
“I cried when they told me I needed a transplant. It was hard to accept,” Kim said.
The operation is the last resort, and even after surgery the patient is at high risk of infection and rejection of the organ.
Mr. Kim loved to play soccer and went fishing every weekend, but now he can’t walk far or hold a fishing pole. He needs oxygen to deal with the constant breathing difficulties.
Co-author of the 2021 Curtin University study, epidemiologist Lin Fritschi, said banning artificial stone would prevent nearly hundreds of lung cancers and thousands of cases of silicosis.
She said that the health impacts of silica dust could also be reduced through various methods.
These include mandatory wet cutting or on-tool dust extraction and consistent use of high-quality respiratory protection.
What is silicosis?
Silicosis is an aggressive and incurable lung disease that results from breathing crystalline silica dust (sand).
The disease has been recognized to occur in workers exposed to dust for hundreds of years, usually workers who had prolonged exposure to mineral dust, such as when working in mines.
When products containing crystalline silica are cut, ground, polished, or similarly worked, they release very fine dust particles into the air that are usually so small as to be invisible.
Silicosis involves silica dust that slowly scars the lungs. The disease usually affects merchants
These are then inhaled and can lodge deep in the lungs, where they can cause serious damage to your lungs and health.
Exposure to crystalline silica dust can cause chronic bronchitis and emphysema, among other lung diseases. Symptoms of exposure to silica dust include shortness of breath, severe cough, chest pain, and fatigue.
There is no such thing as silica cancer. However, the presence of silica dust in the lungs can greatly increase the risk of developing lung cancer. Silica dust lung cancer is also more likely if the person has smoked.
Silicosis is a disease characterized by inflammation and scarring of the lungs. Silicosis is generally a progressive condition, which can lead to the development of other silica dust lung diseases and can lead to death.