Dying benchtop workers lodge silicosis claims, prompting urgent health warning
Since his diagnosis, silicosis sufferer Garry Moratti has lost motivation and avoids using his tools. (ABC News: Kristian Silva)
Garry Moratti doesn’t mince his words when he explains what will happen if his silicosis gets any worse.
“It’s either a lung transplant or six foot under,” he said.
Mr Moratti, 50, has worked as a stonemason his entire career but was forced off the job after he was diagnosed.
Silicosis is an aggressive form of pneumoconiosis, a disease with no cure that traditionally affects coal mine workers.
What is silicosis?
- An incurable and often fatal lung disease caused by breathing dust containing fragments of crystalline silica
- Silica in concrete, masonry, sandstone, rock, paint and other abrasives is released by cutting, drilling or blasting
- Three types of silicosis: chronic (most common) from at least 10 years of exposure; accelerated, from higher exposure levels and 5-10 years of exposure; acute (fatal) from weeks or months of very high exposure
Mr Moratti had been using engineered stone to build kitchen benchtops and vanities, unaware of the dangers associated with cutting the stone dry.
Even though he wore a mask, he would come home covered in the silica dust after a day’s work.
His symptoms now include difficulty breathing and chest pains — he also blames the material for scabs on his arms that regularly flare up.
There was no warning he suffered from silicosis until the day he collapsed on the job.
“It’s always in the back of my mind. I don’t know if one day I’m going to wake up and be in hospital,” he said.
“The lung doctor told me that he hasn’t got a crystal ball and he can’t tell me.”
Urgent health warning
The Queensland Government has issued an urgent warning to the engineered stone benchtop industry after 22 silicosis claims were lodged to WorkCover in the last three weeks, including six people who were diagnosed as terminal.
One sufferer is 27 years old.
Silicosis sufferer Garry Moratti is making the most of spending time with his grandson, Frank. (ABC News: Kristian Silva)
Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace said she received an urgent briefing last night and wants all workers to be tested.
“I encourage workers in the engineered stone industry and those who’ve previously worked in the industry to undergo screenings,” she said.
“In most cases the workers had no symptoms with the disease only being detected through health checks.
“This is alarming and my heart goes out to those workers and their families.”
Mr Moratti said he harboured no ill feelings towards his employer, but was angry with governments for letting the artificial stone into the country.
“It’s the same as asbestos. It should have been checked before they brought it into the country,” he said.
He said the condition not only robbed him of the job he loved doing, but brought on anxiety and depression that has taken the joy from his favourite hobby — fishing.
Mr Moratti said he hoped he could receive enough compensation to help his family make ends meet.
There have been two other Queensland workers diagnosed with terminal silicosis — in 2015 and 2017.
Ms Grace told Parliament she has ordered an audit of the whole industry.
Engineered stone can contain up to 90 per cent silica content compared to about 5 per cent in natural marble.
It poses a threat to handlers when it is ground down or dry-cut — a practice which is prohibited in Queensland.
A pilot audit by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland which began at the end of last year investigated 10 work sites in Queensland.
Ms Grace said officers discovered “extremely poor” work practices including uncontrolled dry-cutting, inadequate ventilation, limited masks and protective equipment.
“Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has worked quickly to escalate this matter and, from this week, 22 specially trained safety inspectors [will be] on the ground to audit the remaining 150 manufacturers by the end of the year.”
She has written to the Federal Government urging a national response.