'It's Lethal': Lack Of Industry Action Leaving Tradies Exposed To Dust Disease

Thousands of Aussies are at risk of developing silicosis, but despite the warnings, nothing is being done to keep them safe.

It has been dubbed the new Asbestos crisis.

Anthony White had been a stonemason for just over a decade when he started showing signs of silicosis.

“At first, it was just a chest infection -- I got antibiotics and all that … and on that day, mum saw me sleeping and she said I’m calling an ambulance,” he told The Sunday Project.

White went to work that day. But a chest X-ray later found scar tissue all over his lungs.

Anthony White has been diagnosed with silicosis. Image: The Sunday Project

The 37-year-old was diagnosed with the silicosis -- a prolonged and incurable lung disease that is caused by exposure to silica dust. Doctors have told White he needs a double lung transplant.

“I’m trying to stay positive,” he said. “I want to be as strong as possible. But it’s hard.”

While the lung disease had all but disappeared about half a century ago, the last few years have seen a spike in cases in Sydney and Melbourne.

Sixty-nine compensation claims have been lodged in the last decade -- mostly from tradies.

Lawyer Roger Singh told The Sunday Project he has seen an emerging pattern of workers from the the stonemason industry facing diagnoses as a consequence of fabricating and cutting engineered stone.

Lawyer Roger Singh urged tradies to not engage in dry cutting. Image: The Sunday Project

Introduced about 15 years ago as a cheaper alternative to marble and granite, it is now a material of choice in many Aussie homes.  But unlike natural stone, the engineered product contains up to 95 percent of silica, which is highly toxic in dust form -- and impossible for stonemasons like White to avoid.

According to the current Workplace health and safety laws, an employer must minimise the risk of exposure to silica to their workers “if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risks”.

This can include using a safer technique known as wet cutting, which sprays water on the stone thereby reducing airborne dust by up to 90 percent, or using local exhaust ventilation.

White said despite an initial warning at work, there was no policing around wearing a mask while cutting dry.

Anthony's mother will have to quit her job to become his carer. Image: The Sunday Project

"It's upsetting," White said.

“It’s all about money. It’s not about your workers who make the money for you."

Singh urged all tradesmen to not engage in dry cutting or shaping of engineered stone “under any circumstances.”

“It’s lethal, and the consequences will potentially be devastating to their health,” he said.

Watch Lisa Wilkinson's full interview with Anthony on The Sunday Project tonight from 6:30.