For almost a decade, Kyle Goodwin worked side-by-side with his buddies as a stonemason.
But there was also a silent killer at work – silica dust.
Silica dust becomes airborne when craftsmen cut into the material known as engineered stone, commonly used for kitchen countertops.
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What many people don’t realize is the damage it can do to a worker’s lungs.
Despite wearing the appropriate protective gear, Goodwin was diagnosed with silicosis and progressive massive fibrosis in 2018.
He was then told he had between five and eight years to live.
“This disease is preventable and me and my former colleagues who are my friends will all die,” said the 37-year-old.
The Construction, Forestry, Shipping, Mines and Energy Union (CFMMEU) this week presented a push to ban engineered stone.
Goodwin, who worked on kitchen worktops from 2004 to 2012, says the change is necessary to prevent young artisan deaths.
“We always wore masks as much as we could and there was ventilation, but I don’t think there was enough information available about how dangerous those tech countertops were at the time,” he told Seven’s Sunrise.
“It is only through the research and diagnosis of so many young Australians that we now know how dangerous this product is.”
When told he could be dead by 2023, he said he felt a mixture of emotions.
“To be honest, the devastation cannot be put into words. There was anger and obviously lingering sadness and the mental health that comes with it and the mental health of all the victims around us, but the anger is obviously there,” he said.
“We don’t want to put stonemasons out of work, there are many other natural alternatives – but this engineered stone is dangerous and we need to stop killing young Australians, it’s not essential in kitchen building.”
It is not known exactly how many Australian trades are currently suffering from silicosis.
But models run by the CFMMEU suggest that about 103,000 people will become infected as a result of exposure to silica dust in the future.
The President of the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists, Kate Cole, said fine silica particles could not be seen.
“Australians pay a really cheap price for their kitchen worktops, but unfortunately the workers are paying with their lives,” she said.
Zach Smith, who is set to take over as CFMMEU national secretary next year, said “Australian workers will keep dying” unless engineered stone is banned.
“Engineered stone is the asbestos of the 2020s,” Smith said.
“This is precisely why we are taking this extremely rare step of banning CFMMEU members from working with this Killer Stone.
“Australia has one of the most insatiable cheap banking habits in the world and could claim thousands of lives if we don’t stop. Any modest increase in consumer costs will save lives.”
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