‘Regulators are failing’: Lawyer Gary Koutzoumis demands action on incurable lung disease

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Silicosis is an incurable, long-term lung disease acquired from inhaling dust from the cutting of engineered stone. The disease is caused by inhaling the fine dust, crystalline silica, which is the material used to make artificial stone benchtops.

The disease has been put in the spotlight recently following an investigation by The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and 60 Minutes into Australia’s work, health and safety standards.

Sydney lawyer Gary Koutzoumis tells The Greek Herald he has clients who have contracted silicosis from working with stone benchtops and are seeking compensation to assist with medical bills.

“It’s a silent killer,” Mr Koutzoumis said. “It’s destroying young families.”

Mr Koutzoumis said silicosis symptoms don’t show immediately and there needs to be a 10 percent permanent impact for clients to seek legal action. He recommends regular check-ups and suggests using iCare who offer free lung screenings.

“The regulators are failing. They are perhaps not doing what they are supposed to be doing. They have a lot to be answerable for,” Mr Koutzoumis said.

“While companies need to take extraordinary measures to ensure the safety of their workers by following NSW regulations, the regulator is not policing it and not enforcing it.”

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, there is a code of practice, a reduction in the workplace exposure standard for the amount of crystalline silica in the air, and the dry cutting of engineered stone has been banned in most states.

But a mass of notices and complaints lodged with SafeWork NSW in the past two years suggests little or no improvement in compliance.

A study into silicosis by Curtin University estimates there are more than 275,000 workers, including miners, contractors, construction workers, stone masons and tunnellers exposed to high levels of crystalline silica which is carcinogenic. Commissioned by the ACTU, the study predicts up to 103,000 workers will be diagnosed with silicosis.

Sophie Cotsis, the NSW opposition work health and safety spokeswoman, led the charge for an inquiry into SafeWork NSW late last year. She wants ‘immediate action’ to save Australians with silicosis.

“The regulator goes in and does nothing. This has to change, this culture has to change,” she told the SMH. “They are risking thousands of people’s lives by not taking immediate action.”

Unions are joining forces to lobby the federal government to ban engineered stone by July 2024. The CFMEU said if the government does not act, it will ban its members from working with it.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

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