Case study – exposure to silica dust
Many jackpick and jackhammer operators were heavily exposed to silica dust while excavating through sandstone for foundations. Others working in foundries and mills were also exposed to high levels of silica dust and have developed silicosis and progressive massive fibrosis.
Jackpick and jackhammer operators drilled through sandstone rock, working 8 to 12 hour days in trenches up to 12 metres deep alongside other jackpick and jackhammer operators. The rocks were taken away by shovel or by bulldozer. Vast amounts of dust were produced and workers were rarely provided with masks or other protection from the dust.
As well as digging foundations, jackpick and jackhammer operators dug trenches for water, sewerage and gas pipes and telephone and electrical cables. Again, workers were exposed to vast quantities of dust while working in trenches a few metres deep.
Many jackpick and jackhammer operators, as well as labourers who did shovelling work, have contracted silicosis and progressive massive fibrosis. Many were forced to leave the industry at a young age due to physical incapacity or to avoid further exposure to dust.
George Xenos came to live in Australia from Greece as a young man in 1964. Like many other Greek immigrants he found work in the excavation industry working as a jackpick and jackhammer operator drilling through sandstone rock to dig foundations. The dust was everywhere and he was not provided with a mask or any safety instructions.
“…dust rose in the air and covered my body. It settled on my hair, on my face, on my clothes, in my pockets…the only way I could get the dust off my hair and body was to wash with Omo washing powder. I would grab it by the handful and rub it in. My hair was so stiff I had to use Brylcream to keep it down,” he told the Court.
By the mid 1970′s George had to stop work. He had contracted silicosis and progressive massive fibrosis and experienced difficulty breathing. His wife had to support the family by doing piecework at home for the clothing industry. In 1986 he left Australia and returned to Greece where it was cheaper to live.
Despite George living in Greece, Turner Freeman successfully brought a claim in Australia against his former employers and recovered substantial compensation for him.
Mr. S started working for an industrial milling company in 1964. One of his jobs was to break up rock and ore into a smaller size using a sledgehammer so that they would fit into the jaws of the crusher. He then fed the rock and ore into the crusher where it was crushed. From the crusher the ore and rock went into a hopper. He then removed the material from the hopper using a wheelbarrow and carted the material to a small hopper, from where it was fed into a small mill that crushed the rock and ore into fine powder. He then bagged the powder.
Mr. S was diagnosed with silicosis and progressive massive fibrosis in 1999. He was advised by his specialist to avoid any further exposure to dust. His employer, on being told of his doctor’s recommendation, advised that there was no available work in a dust free environment and he was subsequently retrenched.
Turner Freeman acted for Mr. S in a claim against his employer and he recovered compensation for his physical injury and loss of earning capacity.