A tradie father-of-three has claimed Bunnings is ‘profiting off death’ after he was diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Ben Harrison, 34, has been battling silicosis, a long-term lung disease caused by inhaling unsafe amounts of silica dust, for more than four years.
Mr Harrison likely inhaled the toxic particles while cutting into silicon-based kitchen benchtops while working as a stonemason on the Gold Coast.
Many of the benchtops he worked on are sold by third parties through hardware giant Bunnings.
His fiancée, Cristale Mccormick, told Daily Mail Australia that until laws around the use of man-made stone changes, Bunnings is happy to make money despite stonemasons getting sick and dying.
‘They’re waiting for (legislative change), essentially, is what they’re doing. It’s wrong,’ Ms Mccormick said.
‘They’re making money until they no longer can.’
After moving back to his home state of Tasmania with his partner and children, he was contacted by friends who advised him to get tested after one of his former work colleagues, Anthony White, was diagnosed with silicosis.
Tradie Ben Harrison (pictured top left with his fiancée, Cristale Mccormick, and their three children), 34, has been battling silicosis, a long-term lung disease caused by inhaling unsafe amounts of silica dust for years
The day before he turned 30, he was told by doctors he had the incurable lung disease.
He and his co-workers had ‘no idea’ about the risks of working with the benchtops and said no one ever used any protection.
He recalled on some work days the stonemasons couldn’t see one another as it ‘was that dusty’.
Mr Harrison’s former colleague Mr White became the first Australian to die from the disease 16 months after his diagnosis.
According to his fiancée, the young father’s condition has been a terrible burden for the family apart and she now faces the prospect of raising their three children, aged five, seven and nine, as a widow.
‘It’s completely ruined our family and our whole life has been ripped from us,’ Ms Mccormick said.
‘We’re living a nightmare of uncertainty every day.’
The day after his 30th birthday the two got engaged and after many delays are planning to finally tie the knot while they still can.
‘We’re getting married on the 14th of October so that we can make sure we get married before he passes away.’
Awareness groups like the Lung Foundation claim that silicosis is the asbestos of today, and that an entire generation of stonemasons will be affected.
The father-of-three had been working as a stonemason on the Gold Coast when he started feeling severely unwell
The couple slammed Bunnings for ‘profiting off death’ after the hardware chain faced calls from the construction union to remove its engineered stone benchtops (stock image)
The parents tried to hide Mr Harrison’s diagnosis from their children at first, but after a while it became too obvious to conceal.
‘As time went by we started to realise that we can’t hide doctor’s appointments,’ she said.
‘And when he started to have overnight stays at hospital we would just say how daddy was having a sleepover.
‘Then as he got worse we had to say “you can’t play with daddy because he’s breathless”.
‘Eventually we had to have serious conversations with our children and give them insight that they shouldn’t have to have.’
The couple has hit out at Bunnings after the hardware giant faced calls from the construction union to not sell engineered kitchen benchtops upon the realisation they contained a high concentration of crystalline silica.
‘Bunnings is just profiting off death,’ Ms Harrison told Yahoo News Australia.
‘They don’t care about the consequences.’
The CFMEU have taken their demands to ban the products directly to the store’s managing director Michael Schneider, warning it was ‘unconscionable’ to keep engineered stone benchtops on their product line.
‘Bunnings has unique market power and a unique place in Australian society. If you were to remove this killer product from your shelves, it would send a powerful message,’ CFMEU boss Zach Smith wrote.
In his letter, Mr Smith called for the product to be removed ‘effective immediately’.
‘I am disappointed that, despite all this information being in the public sphere, Bunnings is still advertising and selling high-silica engineered stone products in your stores nationwide,’ he said.
‘Conversely, it is unconscionable for Bunnings to continue promoting and selling this killer product when there is no need to do so.’
Mr Harrison was diagnosed with the terminal disease contracted from inhaling silica dust while cutting into silicon-based kitchen benchtops through his work as a stonemason
Cells taken from the lungs of a patient with silicosis – notice the speck of silica dust shining brightly
But Bunnings director of merchandise Jen Tucker said the hardware giant would follow advice from regulatory bodies.
‘Most of the benchtops we sell in store are laminate or timber however, the engineered stone benchtops we provide are pre-cut to size before they arrive at a customer’s site and are supplied and installed by a specialist provider that holds an engineered stone licence and applies strict safety standards to protect production and installation teams in line with the requirements of their licence,’ she said.
‘The safety of our team and customers is something we take really seriously.
‘We know that safety is a concern for the industry more broadly, and something that the federal government is currently reviewing.’
‘We are supportive of new legislation as well as the introduction of consistent standards and licensing across states and territories.’
Mr Harrison has turned his attention to his family in the meantime, with plans in place to marry his partner next month
He is no longer able to work because of the terminal disease and has struggled to receive any type of compensation from his employer
Mr Harrison is no longer able to work because of the terminal disease.
He has also struggled to receive any type of compensation from his employer, who he says has not taken any responsibility for his silicosis diagnosis.
The former stonemason has turned his attention to his family in the meantime, with plans in place to marry his partner next month.
When asked about what his future looked like, Mr Harrison said he wasn’t sure he’d ‘have much of one’.
Modelling by Curtin University, released earlier this year, estimated that up to 103,000 tradies will be diagnosed in their lifetime with silicosis as a result of exposure to silica dust at work.
More than 10,000 will develop lung cancer.
The CFMEU has vowed to ban its members from using or importing engineered stone products from July next year if federal and state governments do not act.
When asked about what his future looked like, Mr Harrison said he wasn’t sure he’d ‘have much of one’
What is silicosis?
Silicosis is an aggressive and incurable lung disease which results from breathing in crystalline silica (sand) dust.
The disease has been recognised as occurring in workers exposed to dust for hundreds of years – usually workers who had prolonged exposure to mineral dust, such as while working in mines.
When products containing crystalline silica are cut, crushed, polished or worked with in similar ways, they release very fine dust particles into the air which are usually so small as to be invisible.
Silicosis involves silica dust slowly scarring the lungs. The disease typically affects tradesmen
These are then inhaled and may become lodged deep within 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. Silica dust exposure symptoms 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. Lung cancer from silica dust is also more likely if the person has been a smoker.
Silicosis is a disease marked 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 may lead to death.