Court Hearing for Sibelco Silicosis Cases

AWU

The Australian Workers Union stands in solidarity with three of its members, Kevin Weekes, Craig Robertson, and Alan Jenkins, as their cases against former employer Sibelco are heard in Wonthaggi court tomorrow (14th of June 2024). These men, among many others, have been diagnosed with silicosis, a debilitating lung disease caused by prolonged exposure to silica dust in their workplaces.

Call for Action and Legal Support

The stories of Kevin, Craig, and Alan highlight the urgent need for stronger safety regulations and comprehensive support for workers affected by silicosis. Their struggle for justice represents a broader call to action for improved workplace safety standards.

The AWU, alongside legal representation from Maurice Blackburn, has been campaigning vigorously for enhanced safety measures and better protections for workers exposed to silica dust. These efforts have led to new regulations mandating improved safety standards in workplaces handling silica dust.

Rising Concern and Government Action

The rise in silicosis cases across Australia, particularly among young workers, has prompted widespread concern. Silicosis, with its potential to lead to lung cancer and other serious health issues, demands immediate attention from both government and industry.

The recent Federal Government’s decision to prohibit the importation and production of engineered stone underscores the increasing acknowledgment of the need to eradicate health hazards linked to silica dust. However, while engineered stone represents only a fraction of these hazards, numerous industries remain unmonitored. The AWU continues to fight against hazardous dust-related diseases alongside Maurice Blackburn.

Upcoming Court Decision

The future of Sibelco will be decided in the Wonthaggi court this Friday, June 14, at 9:30 am. This case keeps the spotlight on the wider issue of silicosis and the ongoing struggle for justice and improved workplace safety standards.

Timeline of Negligence and Advocacy

February 2019: Diagnosis and Initial Response

  • Affected Individuals: Kevin Weekes, Alan Jenkins, and Craig Robertson were diagnosed with silicosis following CT scans from workplace testing.
  • Notification: Each was informed individually by the company doctor via phone and advised to start getting their affairs in order, causing significant distress.
  • Workplace Safety: They were instructed not to return to work due to unsafe conditions. A respiratory physician, accompanying a representative to the site, also refused to allow their return.

Previous Practices at Sibelco

  • Annual Testing: Sibelco conducted annual X-ray tests, with results sent to their head office in Queensland and not disclosed to employees.
  • Respiratory Protection Requests: Over the years, employees requested Powered Air Purifying Respirators, initially refused. Kevin eventually received a second-hand, unusable respirator.
  • Work Environment: The silica sand processing facility had inadequate ventilation, leading to extensive dust exposure. Cleaning methods further dispersed silica dust.

WorkSafe Inspections and Actions

  • Initial Inspection: WorkSafe inspected the site on April 10, 2019, two months after the diagnoses, finding inadequate risk controls.
  • ARREO Inspection: Ongoing unsafe practices were observed, including the use of compressed air hoses to clean silica dust.
  • Prosecution Basis: WorkSafe’s prosecution cited past dust monitoring results exceeding exposure levels, with the company failing to control these hazards.
  • Legal Determination: WorkSafe determined Sibelco was in blatant contravention of Sections 21 of the OHS Act and Regulation 163 of the OHS Regulations 2017.

Quote attributed to Ronnie Hayden, AWU Victorian Branch Secretary, who will be in Wonthaggi tomorrow:

“This isn’t just about individual cases; it’s about holding negligent companies accountable and ensuring that no more workers are sacrificed for profit. We are demanding justice and sweeping changes to protect every worker from the deadly risks of silicosis. Sibelco and many other companies out there show a blatant disregard for safety, and this must stop. We will not rest until it does.”

/Public Release.