Australian worker Shane has made his story public in a bid to alert the country to the danger of silicosis in his industry.
Shane, a tunnel worker for 30 years, spoke to The Project about his health battle with silicosis.
The show reported that silicosis is often associated with engineered stone benchtops in kitchens. However, thousands more workers are exposed to the hazard in the tunnelling industry.
“People used to say when it gets dusty put a mask on,” Shane said. “Years later we learned it was the dust you can’t see, the one that gets stuck in your lungs.”
Shane said he “loves” his job but he had unfortunately become very ill.
“I got silicosis early stage progressive massive fibrosis in my lungs. I’ve probably had silica in my lungs since I was in my mid to late 20s,” he said.
“I run out of breath quite easily now. Walking too fast, even talking a lot now, like I am, you can feel it.
“I can’t run around after my daughters between having the steel hips and knees and running out of breath, it’s like you’re gasping and want to take that extra breath in but you just can’t do it.”
Shane said he knew of about 20 others in similar positions to him, but they “don’t want to talk about it.”
He said silica dust was so dangerous because you don’t know it’s present.
“You can be in a tunnel the entire day and not even know there’s silica dust there because it’s airborne and invisible.”
Occupational hygienist Kate Cole said people are dying because of silicosis, “and unfortunately unless we make a change, people will continue to die.”
Ms Cole fine dust particles can reach the lowest portion of the lungs and can cause diseases like chronic silicosis accelerated silicosis, rheumatoid arthritis, COPD and more.
Ms Cole made the case that “the adoption of nationally consistent regulation to prevent silicosis in construction, demolition, tunnelling, across every single state and territory in Australia” is required.
“The US, the UK, Norway and Switzerland, these are country that are light years ahead. It always seems a bit too hard. We have to get every single state to agree.
“It’s incurable, debilitating and completely takes your life away, yet it’s completely preventable.”