What is silicosis?

As more and more workers contract deadly lung diseases, law firms are preparing class actions against the companies that made the artificial stone.

* What is silicosis?

The condition occurs when silica dust is breathed in and tiny crystalline particles of silica damage the lungs.

* How are tradies getting silicosis?

The practice of "dry-cutting" engineered stone products had been identified as a cause of the disease.

Tiny dust particles can be found in engineered stone, which is made of about 90 per cent crystalline silica, a common substitute for marble benchtops.

* What happens when the dust gets into the lungs?

It can cause fluid build up and scar tissue in the lungs which restricts the ability to breathe. This can lead to lung-scarring and cough, weight-loss and fatigue.

There is no cure, according to the American Lung Association.

* How long does it take to develop?

Within a few weeks to decades after exposure.

* How common is it in Australia?

In Queensland, more than 100 stonemasons have been diagnosed with the condition in the six months to April.

At least one of them has died, and 15 of the cases are considered to be terminal.

There has also been a surge of cases in Victoria, prompting the state government to crack down on practices including dry sawing which creates dangerous dust plumes stonemasons can inhale.

Between July 2017 and March this year, 44 silicosis claims have been lodged with WorkSafe Victoria, 35 of them stonemasons.

* How serious is it?

Gold Coast stonecutter Anthony White is believed to be the first Australian tradesman to have died of the condition in March this year. In the US, silicosis reportedly accounts for more than 100 deaths each year.

According to the Cancer Council more than 587,000 people were exposed to silica dust in Australia in 2011. It has been estimated that 5758 of these will develop lung cancer.

* What happens now?

Safe Work Australia has prioritised work to address the risks posed by dust exposure in the workplace, including in the engineered stone industry.

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