Silicosis is a type of lung disease that workers who’ve been exposed to silica may develop.
Stonemasons in particular, especially those working in the stone benchtop industry, are at a high risk of silica exposure. This is due to their work cutting, grinding, sanding and polishing engineered stone benchtops, which have a very high crystalline silica content (up to 95%).
In 2018, the Office of Industrial Relations (OIR) sent out an alert to make people aware of the risks. The alert resulted in industry-wide safety measures being put in place in Queensland.
The safety measures include:
- a ban on uncontrolled dry cutting
- improvements in dust control
- making sure workers use effective respiratory protective equipment
- providing health screening and monitoring.
If you’re an employer, learn more about managing exposure to silica in the workplace.
Health screening and monitoring
I’m a worker
If you’re currently employed by, or are about to start working for, a Queensland stone benchtop employer or other employer (e.g. a labour hire company) they are required to fund health screenings and monitoring for you (PDF, 0.18 MB).
If you're unsure who'll fund your health screening, WorkCover can provide support and guidance, please call us.
I’m an employer
Since 31 October 2019, if you’re an employer in the stone benchtop industry, you must pay for your workers to have an initial health screen and must also commit to ongoing health monitoring of your workers.
This is in line with the Managing respirable crystalline silica dust exposure in the stone benchtop industry Code of Practice 2019.
As an employer, it’s your responsibility to pay for all expenses relating to the health screening and ongoing monitoring of your workers, including:
- doctor’s fees
- testing and analysis
- reasonable travel costs
- time off work to attend appointments
To help you make your workplace safer, The Department of Workplace Health and Safety also provides guidance to employers on how to prevent worker exposure silica dust in the engineered stone benchtop industry.
What if I previously worked in the stone benchtop industry?
If you used to work in the stone benchtop industry, were exposed to silica and are experiencing symptoms, you should see your doctor straight away.
I’ve been diagnosed with Silicosis or an abnormality. What happens now?
If you’ve been diagnosed with work-related silicosis, either through employer-funded screening or by your own doctor, you may be entitled to compensation.
You may be entitled to:
- reimbursements for medical expenses
- counselling support for you and your family
- weekly compensation for normal weekly earnings, where applicable
- return to work assistance, if applicable
- lump sum compensation (this is dependent on your personal situation and can be discussed with your WorkCover contact)
- financial hardship assistance.
You may also decide to make a common law claim.
You or your employer should talk to WorkCover as soon as you can and lodge a claim.
You or your employer will need to:
- provide a work capacity certificate from your doctor confirming your condition and that it is work-related
- lodge a claim online or call WorkCover on 1300 362 128.
What happens if WorkCover accepts my claim?
All claims go through a decision making process.
The Office of Industrial Relations has developed guidelines for assessing engineered stone workers exposed to silica to support medical practitioners in assessing and managing silica related respiratory disease.
If WorkCover approves your claim, based on a formal medical diagnosis, there are different types of payments and support available depending on your personal circumstances and needs.
Returning to work
Getting back to work is an important part of your recovery. We’ll work with you, your doctor, and your employer (if you’re still employed with them) to put together a rehabilitation and return to work plan that matches your needs.
If your doctor says it’s not safe for you to keep working as a stonemason, we’ll work with you to increase your employability so you can find work doing something new.
Learn more about employment alternatives.
Counselling and financial support
We know experiencing a work-related illness can be challenging for you and your family. WorkCover is here to support you through this difficult time.
If you have an accepted WorkCover claim and you or your family need emotional or financial support, we can:
- cover the cost of counselling support
- help with assessing and approving financial hardship requests.
Financial hardship support is a pre-payment of a lump sum entitlement we expect you'll be entitled to receive in the future and is assessed on a case-by-case basis. We consider:
- the severity of the medical diagnosis (based on doctor's advice)
- your current financial situation.
Your personal situation should be discussed with your WorkCover contact.
As at 31 December 2020, WorkCover had completed the health screening of 1,053 stonemasons exposed to crystalline silica dust from engineered stone, with one yet to complete the process.
234 people were diagnosed with a work-related condition. We’re helping them with their recovery and rehabilitation, and providing compensation for their loss of wages.
Some of these people were diagnosed through other health screening options and they’ve lodged claims with us.
Of these workers:
- 32 have a diagnosis of progressive massive fibrosis
- 12 have a respiratory condition that is not silicosis
- 190 have silicosis.
On 9 November 2018 the Office of Industrial Relations and WorkCover Queensland hosted an information session for employers and workers to discuss the emergence of workplace injuries caused by exposure to respirable crystalline silica.
Read a recent report on Return to work and vocational rehabilitation support for workers suffering from silicosis.
This report was published in partnership with University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) and Monash University Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health.