Former stonemason Paul Little, who developed severe rheumatoid arthritis and silicosis from inhaling dust while working with stone products. Pic Jamie Hanson
Former stonemason Paul Little, who developed severe rheumatoid arthritis and silicosis from inhaling dust while working with stone products. Pic Jamie Hanson

Silicosis victim hits eight companies with $2.5m compo claim

For years stonemason Paul Little would go home from work covered in fine dust, after cutting stone products, without the protection of a mask.

Now the Gold Coast father-of-three, 47, is unable to work, after developing the dust disease silicosis and rheumatoid arthritis, after years of exposure to silica dust.

Mr Little has filed a $2.5 million personal injury damages claim against eight companies that manufactured or supplied five reconstituted stone products.

Over 15 years as a stonemason, Mr Little worked for 12 companies on the Gold Coast and around Tweed Heads in northern NSW.

"Everyone I worked for basically didn't supply masks," Mr Little said. "I'd come home covered in dust, smothered in it. It would be through your clothes and hair and then it'd go through the car and house.

"It was so bad, your throat would hurt. It would sting. It was like burning."

Mr Little's Supreme Court claim says he cut, ground and polished reconstituted stone products without any adequate respiratory protection, alongside others doing the same work. He was frequently and heavily exposed to dust containing silica, which he breathed in, the claim says.

The silica dust was released from stone products, used in kitchens and bathrooms, onto his hands, clothes and work environment, it is alleged.

Mr Little, who developed aggressive rheumatoid arthritis in 2009, said it was slowly attacking his body.

"My right hand has lost all its strength and I can't close it properly," he said.

"The fingers on my hand are swollen and deformed. My feet are so bad, I find it hard to walk sometimes."

Mr Little's claim says he has also suffered anxiety and depression, he has lost teeth because of the medication he had to take and has not worked since August, last year.

Lawyer Jonathan Walsh of Maurice Blackburn said Mr Little's injuries had a devastating effect on him and his family. Mr Walsh said the law firm was now seeing a number of clients with auto-immune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma, resulting from silica exposure.

However, unlike the recognised dust disease silicosis, which has no time limit for filing an injury claim, claims for silica-related auto-immune diseases had to be filed within 12 months of diagnosis.

The claim alleges the companies being sued for $2,557,200 failed to warn of the risks of inhalation or exposure to silica and failed to promote safe work practices.

The eight companies are yet to file responses to the claim.


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