A 22-year-old tradie has spoken about the harrowing moment he was diagnosed with a deadly respiratory disease dubbed ‘the new asbestos’.
Connor Downes, from Gold Coast, is the youngest person in Australia to be diagnosed with silicosis – which is caused by killer silica dust particles.
Mr Downes had been working with the material for three years when he decided to get himself checked after a friend found out he had the disease.
‘When they did the respiratory tests with the CT scan you could see straight away see the nodules all through my lung, big white powder sort of thing everywhere,’ he told the ABC.
Connor Downes, 22 (pictured), who was diagnosed last month, is just one of hundreds of people who are preparing for a class action suit against several stone bench top companies
Mr Downes (pictured) said in his three-years working at the ‘wet-cut workplace’ dust blanketed the floor on a day-to-day basis
Speaking to Daily Mail Australia Mr Downes said it was terrifying to find out he had a potentially fatal disease.
‘While everyone knew any sort of dust was going to be harmful, we didn’t know to what extent,’ Mr Downes said.
‘Being diagnosed was a massive shock because the doctors told me I can’t go back to work, and that’s the only trade I know.
‘My partner and I were planning on having children and I’d just bought a house, but now I’m on very minimum wages that barely clear my bills or my mortgage.’
Mr Downes is just one of hundreds of workers who are preparing to launch a class action suit against several stone bench top companies.
Slater and Gordon announced on Thursday it will lead the suit against manufacturers after their products allegedly led to stonemasons contracting the fatal lung disease.
Since being diagnosed, Mr Downes said ‘it has been a pretty rough process’ given he can no longer work and is forced to stay at home alone all day while his friends work.
‘It is tough because my days aren’t getting filled with a whole lot apart from doctors appointments,’ he said.
Shane Parata (pictured) was diagnosed with silicosis days before it killed his brother Anthony
Slater and Gordon say they ave seen a spike in reports from workers who previously worked in the industry and have now been diagnosed with silicosis.
Practice Group Leader Margaret Kent told Daily Mail Australia several major stone bench top suppliers didn’t adequately explain safety risks or handling precautions to their employees.
What is silicosis?
Silicosis is the scarring of the lung tissue which leads to a shortness of breath due to a buildup of silica dust in the air sacs.
It typically affects tradesmen who work with concrete, bricks, tiles, sandstone and granite.
Symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain, loss of appetite, fatigue
It is commonly caused from exposure to respirable crystalline silica over many years, but extremely high short-term exposures can cause it to develop rapidly
Exposure to respirable crystalline silica can lead to a range of respiratory diseases, including silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer
Source: Queensland Workplace Health and Safety
‘Under Australian law the responsibility for harm caused in these circumstances rightly falls on the manufacturers involved,’ Ms Kent said.
‘The extreme levels of harm caused by dust from stone bench-top products in Australia can be traced back to a small number of manufacturers.’
Ms Downes, who is encouraging other workers to get checked, said when he got into his car at the end of his shift, ‘a big puff of smoke’ would come off his clothes.
Ms Kent said: ‘It is a tragedy that so many people have, or will, become grievously ill just by going to work.
‘This class action will seek to ensure that the manufacturers are held to account for the harms their products have caused.
‘It is outrageous that a product is legally allowed to be used and sold when it when it poses such a severe risk to workers,’ she said.
Mr Downes’ case comes after several other reported cases, including Gold Coast former stonemason Shane Parata and his brother Anthony White, who died in 2017.
Another victim who was diagnosed only last week was Joel Goldby, who was just 15 years old when he started work cutting artificial stone benchtops in Queensland.
Now at 28, Mr Goldby – who recruited his brother and three of his best mates into the industry – struggles to breathe.
‘I am short of breath all the time, it just feels like my lungs are heaps tighter than they should be,’ Mr Goldby said.
‘I had no idea it was even a possibility or I wouldn’t have got my best friends and my brother to work there.’
Another victim who was diagnosed only last week was Joel Goldby (pictured), who was just 15 years old when he started work cutting artificial stone benchtops in Queensland
While Mr Goldby is still working in the industry in Victoria, his mates aren’t so lucky, struggling to make ends meet while on Workcover.
‘I know about 30 plus boys who have it now.’
In April this year, the federal government established the National Dust Diseases Task Force in response to new cases of accelerated silicosis.
In Queensland, more than 100 stonemasons have been diagnosed with the condition in the six months to April.
At least one of them has died, and 15 of the cases are considered to be terminal.
Mr White (pictured) is believed to be the first tradesman to die after experts warned about engineered stone last year, calling it ‘the next asbestos’
Silicosis is an incurable and deliberating lung disease described as the biggest threat to tradesmen since asbestos and mesothelioma (stock image)
There have also been a surge of cases in Victoria, prompting the state government to crack down on practices including dry sawing which creates dangerous dust plumes stonemasons can inhale.
Between July 2017 and March this year, 44 silicosis claims have been lodged with WorkSafe Victoria, 35 of them stonemasons.
Ms Kent said the class action approach was intended to supplement existing workers’ compensation entitlements.
‘It is important for all workers who have been injured in any way by silica to be aware of the workers compensation entitlements they may be able to access,’ she said.