Deadly lung disease affecting tradies 'worse than asbestosis'
Karl Hansen loved working with his hands but he never thought the job he was so passionate about would send him towards an early grave.
For 13 years, the father of five created beautiful benchtops from manufactured stone, until he received the devastating news that he needed to pack up his tools, stop work immediately and never step foot in a stone factory again.
Karl had been diagnosed with silicosis – an aggressive and incurable lung disease which is so serious, health experts are warning it is the new asbestosis.
“It was a real shock. It brought me to tears to be honest,” Karl told A Current Affair reporter Tineka Everaardt.
Silicosis is caused by inhaling fine particles of silica dust and is attributed to the introduction of artificial stone materials during the building boom of the early 2000s and is only treatable by a lung transplant.
While miners, construction workers and engineers can be affected, stonemasons are at the highest risk because of the high levels of dust created when cutting kitchen benchtops, and the lack of suitable protection like breathing masks.
“Quite often you would be covered head to toe in dust,” Karl said.
“If you walked around the factory you would see a lot of dust on the shelves. Sometimes there would be an inch thick of it.”
Karl thought nothing of this until he developed a niggling cough and began to struggle with everyday activities like kicking a football with the kids and walking to the shops.
A CT scan last November revealed the worst – silicosis - but it will be another two years of lung function tests and further scans before Karl knows exactly how quickly this disease will progress.
For now, a ventolin inhaler is the only way to alleviate the pain but doctors are warning Karl that it is only a matter of time before he will require an oxygen tank to breathe.
Respiratory physician Dr Ryan Hoy told A Current Affair that Australia’s silicosis crisis is unprecedented and is warning stonemasons to undergo regular health screenings as they may have the disease and not even know it.
“It’s very likely there are a lot of people that haven’t been diagnosed yet,” he said.
“The disease can be very rapidly progressive. It really is worse than asbestosis in some ways.”
While silicosis can cause tradies to go from having healthy lungs to needing a transplant within just four years, the disease is preventable which has many health professionals calling for urgent action by states.
“It is extremely important that if artificial stone is used that there are strict, controlled measures to ensure the dust is produced at a low level,” Dr Ryan said.
“But the most effective means of this is to not use materials which contain high levels of silica at all.”
© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2019