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Australia Perth father first in Western Australia to launch legal action over silicosis related to engineered stone

07:20  26 november  2020
07:20  26 november  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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a man looking at the camera: Petronalo Ligutan has been diagnosed with Silicosis. He and his partner Sheila Bona have decided to launch legal action. (ABC Radio Perth: Nadia Mitsopoulos) © Provided by ABC Health Petronalo Ligutan has been diagnosed with Silicosis. He and his partner Sheila Bona have decided to launch legal action. (ABC Radio Perth: Nadia Mitsopoulos)

Petronilo Ligutan was diagnosed with silicosis, a lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust, last year and is the first person in Western Australia to sue over what he alleges were unsafe conditions at four different companies.

Silicosis is caused by breathing in dust containing crystalline silica, which is found in high levels in popular manufactured stone kitchen benchtops.

Mr Ligutan, 44, is an accomplished stonemason and moved to Perth with his family from the Philippines in 2007 — he and his partner have four children aged 22, 13, 10 and 7.

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He has been unable to work since January and said since his diagnosis in 2019 he is already struggling to breathe.

"It's like I'm already dead, I've already finished my life," he said.

"I can't sleep. Sometimes I am crying. My GP has given me a lot of sleeping tablets, but still I'm really sad sometimes.

"There is no cure, nothing."

Masks not always provided

Mr Ligutan said since moving to Perth 13 years ago, he was not always provided with a mask to wear while cutting the engineered stone, but was reluctant to complain as he did not want to jeopardise his ability to stay in Australia.

"I was really surprised that these companies were using angle grinders, there was just dust. No water [to suppress the dust]," he said.

"When I worked in the Philippines, we used a mask, it is provided every day for the workers. When I came [here], it's just dust."

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His partner, Sheila Bona, said the diagnosis had not only affected his lungs, but caused them both severe anxiety about the future and their ability to care for their children, pay the mortgage and support family back home.

"We feel sad for all of us, because we migrated from the Philippines to come here to work, not to be ill," Ms Bona said.

"In our culture we have to help our family back home. With the future dreams that we had, it fell down, we don't know what to do."

The silicosis diagnosis, which a specialist has told them is incurable, also left Mr Ligutan angry.

"The moods have changed, sometimes he doesn't eat with us, sometimes you can't talk to him," Ms Bona said.

"He'll suddenly be shouting. The eldest has now left because of that."

Legal action launched

Ms Bona said they decided to sue the four companies that Mr Ligutan worked for to raise attention to the issue.

"It's for my partner to stand up," she said.

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"It's showing to people who are working in the same field that they have to speak out and … fight for their health.

"My partner, he didn't know there was a health risk to the job, and he didn't know the proper PPE that they need to use."

The couple are being represented by Kathryn Townsend from Shine Lawyers in Queensland, where the problem of silicosis from engineered stone first emerged.

Ms Townsend said Mr Ligutan's claim will be for lost income, pain and suffering and future medical expenses.

"Stonemasons who work manufacturing these benchtops are exposed to grossly high levels of dust because the practices in terms of allowing dry cutting and dry grinding, poor provision of appropriate PPE or no PPE, lack of proper ventilation and extraction all result in people like Petronilo being exposed to such high levels of dust that unfortunately they sustain injury in the form of silicosis," she said.

"Silicosis is one of the oldest occupational diseases in the world and this product has been on the market now for close to two decades.

"Employers should know what this product is and that it contains up to 95 per cent silica, which is absolutely lethal when you are cutting it without proper ventilation or without water application.

"They should know what it can do, they should know what the risks are and they should be taking proper steps to alleviate those risks."

Mr Ligutan's Perth solicitor, Kenneth Rukunga, said the legal action was the first of its kind in WA.

"Petronilo was wronged and we will aim to make it right," he said.

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