A woman’s lupus disease has been linked to silica dust exposure in what is believed to be landmark compensation decision that will pave the way for other Australian workers.
Dianne Adams, 58, worked at a Victorian silica milling factory in Lang Lang for 19 years before being diagnosed with the autoimmune disease lupus five years later.
However it was only after she was diagnosed with silicosis last year that she learned her lupus was also work-related.
WorkSafe Victoria on Wednesday accepted the causal link between Ms Adams’ work at the factory and her lupus.
It means she will now receive regular payments through the insurer.
The recognition also paves way for other workers across the stonemasonry, mining, and construction sectors to achieve the same.
Ms Adams, who lives on a dairy farm in Kongwak and has been surviving on Centrelink payments, says the outcome will help her live more comfortably.
“I’ll be able to get a heater. I don’t have heating in my house because I’ve never been able to afford it,” she said.
“I can just start enjoying life more.”
Ms Adams said after her lupus diagnosis, she just thought she was unlucky.
“It causes you pain, it attacks your organs, and it attacks your muscles. I don’t wish it on anyone,” she said.
But now the link to her former job has been established, she feels “vindicated”.
“When you’re living weekly and have been doing that for 10 years and you find out it’s not your fault, it’s a relief,” she said.
“Maybe people have worked in a dusty job and they’ve got lupus and they never knew. Hopefully they’ll go, ‘Wait a second’.
“I don’t want anyone to go through what I’ve been through the last 11 years. It’s cruel.”
Roger Singh, who heads Shine Lawyers’ dust and diseases litigation practice, said it would now pursue Ms Adams’ former employer for negligence, with the claim likely to be “substantial”.
“From experiences we’ve had in similar matters, where injuries have been sustained in the workplace, where there’s economic loss in the equation, the awards can be in the hundreds of thousands to the million-dollar plus mark, but each case has to be judged on its merits,” he said.
“Beyond that, this paves the way for other workers who might be suffering from autoimmune diseases such as lupus to come forward to seek legal redress.”
Silicosis is most associated with workers exposed to silica dust.
It causes scarring, swelling and fluid build-up in the lungs and affects the ability to breathe. It is potentially lethal.
The law firm has previously campaigned for workplace insurers to recognise the link between silica dust exposure and other autoimmune diseases like scleroderma and Rheumatoid arthritis.
Mr Singh said when he contacted Ms Adams about silicosis, and discovered she also had lupus, it made his “ears prick up”.
“That put me on a quest to leave no stone unturned to try to establish that link,” he said.
“It’s been a real hard slog but we’ve achieved an outcome for Dianne and it paves the way for other workers.”
Mr Singh said the outcome demonstrates the far reaching effects of silica, which is still in Australian workplaces.
A national taskforce interim report was recently released but it did not go far enough, he said.
“Silica causes death and destruction and it beggars belief there isn’t more rigorous regulation in place in all sectors,” he said.
“It’s a national disgrace.
“From a government perspective, where health and wellbeing is in the equation, issues such as these must be put as a priority – it’s a no brainer.
“We are calling upon state and federal governments to take this issue more seriously.”
Ms Adams is one of seven workers who worked at silica milling factories in Lang Lang and Dandenong who say working there made them unwell.
The factories were at different times owned by global minerals giants Unimin and Sibelco.