Work Place Accidents
Workers around the world and in a range of industries have been exposed to silica over long periods of time. They have been subject to fine particles of sand (silica) that cause breakdown, scarring and shrinkage of the lungs. The 10 to 40 year latency period means that most claims deal with works that were exposed to the substance until the 1980s, but physicians contend that the peak in new cases will not be seen until around 2016.
These work-related illnesses have led to new personal injury claims in Australia where the extent of silica related health issues is not yet known. The US already has 70,000 silica health related claims, with some individual claims as high as $US7.6 million dollars.
In June 2005, the Senate approved a workplace toxic dust exposure inquiry, but most Australians with silica related health issues have not been officially reported nor have they received proper compensation. Although records on the number of Australians exposed are almost nonexistent, the Australian Sandblasting Diseases Coalition was able to determine that there is a likely 150,000 individuals who were affected between 1950 and 1990, but the figure does include iron, steel, mining and construction workers.
Many of the companies that used silica in their products from chemical manufacturers to demolition groups have been restructured, changed hands, or went out of business, which has clouded the issue on who is responsible for ensuing silica health related liabilities. This makes insurers of those companies an easy, possible claims target. The Australian government risks becoming one of the key targets in silica health related claims as it hired workers by the thousands to establish road and railways from sandstone. Its military and port personnel may also have been exposed to and inhaled the substance in the line of duty and could bring claims against the federal and state government as well.
The lax and complacent attitude towards silica based health issues in Australia stems from the statistical comparison with asbestos claims made against insurers, companies, and the government. It is believed that the cases will balloon with time. With the growing number of successfully awarded claims in Britain and the US, Australia should look into the causes of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) from which emphysema and bronchitis stem. Smoking has usually been the main cause of COPD, but cases proved in both Britain and the US has shown silica was the primary factor, and Britain expects to pay ¬£7.5 billion by 2009.
A warning from the legal community states that improvements in medical technology and more highly educated physicians are making early disease detection easier and life expectancy longer, and their warning is that this will increase the number and size of claims.
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