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Making a Compensation Claim for Silicosis

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Dust Mask

Silicosis is an incurable respiratory disease that can be fatal in some cases. It is caused by breathing in particles of silica dust, (or respirable crystalline silica) which are so fine that they are taken deep into the lungs, where the immune system tries to attack them, causing inflammation

Over time this inflammation can damage the lungs, causing the tissues to scar and harden (fibrosis). This can make breathing difficult, and lead to further complications that can be very disabling.

If you're worried that you may be at risk of developing silicosis and want to know more about its effects, how to help prevent it, and what methods are used to treat it, read on.

Jobs at risk for silicosis

Silica dust, the substance that causes silicosis, is found in rocks, sands and clays that are used in many different industries.

The prevalence of silica dust in everyday materials means that there are quite a few jobs in which workers come into contact with it. These workers are therefore at risk of developing silicosis if they are not provided with, or do not take, the proper precautions. 

These jobs include:

  • Quarrying
  • Foundry work
  • Stonemasonry
  • Construction jobs that involve breaking bricks or stones
  • Potteries
  • Sandblasting
  • Glass manufacturing
  • Mining
  • Tiling
  • Asphalt manufacturing
  • Demolition work
  • Any job involving crushing, chipping or drilling concrete or rock.

Men are much more likely to develop silicosis than women. This is not because they are more prone to the disease, but because they are more likely to work in industries where they might be exposed to the dust.

Symptoms of Silicosis

If you think you may have contracted silicosis and are interested in making a silicosis claim, here are some of the symptoms you may be experiencing.

There are 3 types of silicosis: 

  1. Simple chronic silicosis: This is the most common form of the disease and usually takes over ten years of low level exposure to become symptomatic. The severity of the symptoms can vary greatly. Those who are diagnosed early on and avoid any further exposure may have few symptoms at all.
  2. Accelerated silicosis: This form of the disease develops more quickly (between five and ten years) as a result of a higher level of exposure. The symptoms are very similar to chronic silicosis, but there is a greater risk of developing complications.
  3. Acute silicosis: This is a very rapid form of the disease, caused by exposure to very high concentrations of the dust over a short period of time. The symptoms can take any time between a few weeks and five years to develop and, again, are similar to those found in the other forms, but there is usually severe breathlessness, and further complications – including weight loss and even death - are much more likely

Overall, however, silicosis sufferers are at greater risk of contracting tuberculosis, arthritis and kidney disease. There may also be links to the development of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Symptoms get worse as fibrosis develops and may include the following:

  • Breathlessness, especially after exertion
  • Cough
  • A feeling of tightness in the chest
  • Tiredness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Blue tinge to the skin
  • Chest pain
  • Respiratory problems
  • Heart problems

Protecting yourself against silicosis

If you work in any of the above industries, then it is essential that you follow your workplace safety guidelines. This will usually involve wearing a respirator, which will help stop you inhaling silica dust. You must inform your supervisor or employer if you believe your safety equipment is ineffective.

Before eating and drinking, you must also make sure you thoroughly wash your hands and stay away from dusty areas while on break. Keep in mind that you may still be at risk even if you cannot see any visible dust. You should also shower and/or change into clean clothes before leaving work so you do not contaminate your home.

Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH), it is your employer's duty to inform you of all the appropriate precautions and issue all the necessary warnings. You should be provided with training on all safety equipment, and your employer must make sure such equipment is in proper working order. Control measures should be put in place to keep exposure to a minimum.

Silicosis and Scotland 

Silica is an integral part of Scotland's history, particularly in Edinburgh, where it is literally built into the city's history.

However, for workers in the stonemasonry and construction sectors, who have frequently worked in unventilated areas rife with silica dust, the widespread use of stone in Edinburgh and across Scotland has resulted in an underreported "epidemic" of silicosis.

In 2019, Edinburgh's Surgeons' Hall Museum published a paper, ‘Edinburgh's hidden story of stonemasons' silicosis', which detailed the use of silica in the city as well as its tragic impact.

"There is a weight of evidence from contemporary sources which makes a persuasive case that this is a forgotten occupational health disaster," commented, Professor Ken Donaldson one of the report's authors who spoke to the BBC about the findings.

Professor Donaldson told of his shock at learning that the Scott Monument, which required huge of blocks of sandstone for its construction, was shaped predominantly in sheds to keep out the wind and rain.

He added that "people just don't know about the unintended consequences of building this beautiful city".

The report details how between 1872 and 1911, 46.1% of Edinburgh's stonemasons died as a result of silica-tuberculosis. However, because there was no path to reporting the illness – even today it is not a statutory reportable disease – its true impact remains unknown.

Professor Donaldson said that he felt the figures are likely to be only a tiny fraction of the full toll. "I think hundreds of stonemasons will have died from silicosis while building the New Town."

The high quartz sandstone used for building Edinburgh's New Town was transported from a Craigleith quarry, less than two miles from Scotland's capital. This was then used to construct many of the landmark buildings, including the following:

  • The Scott Monument
  • The Edinburgh and Glasgow Bank
  • The Old Royal High School on Calton Hill

A contemporary risk in Scotland

Even today, silica remains a threat to those employed in stonemasonry. For example, one study found that between 2007 and 2013, six stonemasons between aged 24 to 39 were were diagnosed with silicosis while working in Edinburgh.

Furthermore, there is a silica dust risk that is much closer to all of us than we might imagine. Many engineered stone kitchen worktops in Scotland contain silica and are likely to be hazardous to the workers who manufacture and install them.

Around half of all lung transplants in Israel are thought to be the result of damage caused by silica dust from engineered stone of the kind used in up to half the new kitchens in the UK.

There is a real and urgent need to improve the safety of those who use this material – otherwise we may well see a ticking time-bomb of occupational illness similar to the tragedy we have already experienced with asbestos.

EMPLOYER OBLIGATIONS

According to the Health and Safety Executive, there is a workplace exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica of 0.1 mg/m3 expressed as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA).

Furthermore, exposure to RCS is subject to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH). Any failure to abide by these limits may result in the contraction of silicosis and possible employer liability for a silicosis compensation claim.

Silicosis compensation claim

Thompsons’ No Win No Fee lawyers are specialists in dealing with claims for respiratory diseases such as silicosis.

We realise that being diagnosed with a condition as serious as silicosis will deeply affect you and your loved ones, putting you under great strain, financially and emotionally.

That's why, at Thompsons, we approach every case with sensitivity, putting you and your family's interests at the heart of everything we do. We only ever represent the victims of personal injury – never companies or corporations. Our goals lie with ensuring people do not suffer as a result of negligence without getting fair recompense.

Our solicitors are sympathetic and practical, and will help you through the process, fighting to obtain the maximum compensation for you, in the quickest possible time. As a firm, our legal expertise is second to none, and our confidence is reflected in the fact that we offer a No Win No Fee service. This means that if your claim is unsuccessful, you won't have to pay a penny. So there is no need to worry about incurring unnecessary legal fees.

If you have any concerns or queries about the claims process, then call one of our expert solicitors today to have an initial discussion about your case.

We will happily advise you on your case and inform you of what your best options are.

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