The latest industry insights into compensation law.

Silica Dust Exposure Linked to Rising Incidence of Autoimmune Conditions

One of the unexpected results of the unprecedented number of Queensland workers being exposed to respirable silica dust (stonemasons being of primary focus) and the consequential mandatory health screenings, was the discovery and diagnosis of a number of autoimmune conditions.

The most common autoimmune conditions arising in connection to silica exposure that are currently being investigated are:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis;
  • Scleroderma; and
  • Lupus.

Similar to the increased incidence of a number of associated conditions arising from asbestos exposure, recorded over many years, the medical understanding of the varying effects of silica exposure on the development of autoimmune conditions is evolving and solidifying.

In our experience, the vast majority of claims involving silica related autoimmune conditions are often brought in conjunction with an established diagnosis of lung disease, whether progressive or stable. This circumstance also assists in establishing an evidential basis of prior exposure with a likely causal connection between exposure and the autoimmune condition.

Many individuals are indeed only diagnosed with or the indications recognised of, an autoimmune condition, as a result of investigations undertaken in the course of the treatment and review of their lung condition / primary injury.

However, we have seen instances of cases involving autoimmune conditions with no identifiable lung diagnosis. In these circumstances, it is likely the autoimmune condition that results in a significant impairment and hence the potential loss of income, future medical expenses and the ongoing requirement for assistance etc, which may result in significant compensable entitlements.

Accordingly, it is essential that those with silica exposure, particularly heavy occupational exposure such as stonemasons, seek both expert medical and legal opinions if they begin to experience any of the symptoms or clinical indications of an overly active autoimmune response or autoimmune condition.

Some of the common symptoms of the varying autoimmune diseases include:

  • joint pain and swelling;
  • skin issues;
  • abdominal pain;
  • recurring fever; and
  • swollen glands.

It is important to note that any work related silica related autoimmune conditions must be lodged with WorkCover Queensland (or the relevant self-insurer entity) within 6 months of the injury being diagnosed.

In respect of a common law claim for silica related autoimmune conditions, such injuries are considered to be ‘over period of time’ injuries.  The 3-year primary limitation period to commence a common law claim commences to run from when an individual is exposed to the harmful agent that caused the autoimmune condition.  Often, this primary limitation period has expired before the diagnosis is made.  However, an extension of time can be granted if the common law claim is filed within 12 months of a material fact of a decisive character – the most common being within 12 months of the diagnosis of the silica related autoimmune condition.

Therefore, it is important that you seek legal advice from an experienced and reputable practitioner if you are diagnosed or are even simply being investigated for an autoimmune condition due to occupational dust exposure, to ensure any compensation entitlements you may have now or into the future are safeguarded.

vbr Lawyers are highly specialised in dust disease claims and can assist with ensuring your rights and entitlements are protected.

Charlton is an Associate at our Gold Coast office and holds degrees in Business and Law from Griffith University.
Sean is proud to be a lawyer for everyday people no matter what their issue. He has practised in compensation law for all his legal career and he has a superb track record of achieving outstanding results for his clients.

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