Occupational Cancer and Industrial Disease

Occupational Cancer and Industrial Disease

How or what you were exposed to, and in what circumstances that exposure occurred, will determine which compensation avenue best benefits you. The normal rules for making a claim are very different with occupational cancer and industrial disease, so specialised legal advice should be obtained immediately if you are diagnosed with any of the following diseases:
A cancer of the pleura, being the lining of the lungs and other internal organs, which can be caused by relatively low exposure to asbestos fibres.
Lung Cancer
A cancer of the lung tissue, which can be caused by significant exposure to asbestos, even where other factors are also present, such as a history of smoking.
Scarring in the lung tissue that is usually caused by significant exposure to asbestos, dust and fibre. Although not a form of cancer, this condition can nevertheless be progressive.
Benign Pleural Plaques
Calcium deposits on the lining of the lungs, which usually occurs in areas affected by asbestos exposure. Pleural plaques can cause breathing restriction and chest pain.
Silicosis is not a naturally occurring disease. Its occurrence is directly associated with workplace exposure to silica dust. It is caused from breathing in the crystalline form of silica. Silica is the main component in sand and rocks like sandstone and granite. Many workplaces are not aware that common building products including clay bricks, concrete, tiles and fibro cement products contain silica. Silica dust is usually created when these building products, sandstone or rocks are cut, drilled or worked on in a way that creates fine particles of silica in the air. Industries we typically see a diagnosis of silicosis are in:
• Underground mining, tunnelling and excavation work;
• Extraction and cutting of quartzite, gneiss, granite and slate;
• Foundries;
• Glass manufacturing plants;
• Brick making;
• Manufacture of pottery, porcelain, refractory materials and siliceous abrasives;
• Road building;
• Demolition work where potential sites of silica exist e.g. breaking up concrete;
• Explosive blasting work.

If excessive amounts of silica dust are breathed into the lungs over a period of time, it can cause damage to the lung tissue. The disease can remain symptom-free for 10 to 20 years after exposure. The most common form of silicosis develops after long exposure to relatively low concentrations. Once the disease has begun, it will continue to progress even if you are removed from further exposure.

Black Lung

The Black Lung, also known as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis is caused by exposure to, or breathing in of, coal dust or graphite. The length of time of exposure is an important factor when looking at a person’s risk of developing the disease. The disease can develop over a lengthy period (even if exposure to the coal dust has stopped), sometimes upwards of 15 years.

Firefighters and Occupational Cancer

The effects on firefighters (career and volunteer) who have been exposed to carcinogens (all combustion products, aka smoke), PFOS, PFAS toxins and chemicals at fire scenes and fire extinguisher activities including training have been the subject of scientific research conducted worldwide. The research has found a clear link between firefighting as an occupation, and the increased risk of developing a lot of different cancers.

Firefighter cancer includes: brain, prostate, testicular, breast, kidney, bladder, leukaemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, ureter, colorectal and oesophageal cancers.  This list is getting larger as more research and data is collected, so arguably any cancer might have an association to firefighting activities.

If a firefighter with a certain number of years’ service develops one of these types of cancer, then that cancer is considered to have been caused by occupational firefighting exposure to carcinogens at fire scenes, including during the dampening down with off-gassing, and during live fire training.

A number of Australian States and Territories have already introduced legislation that creates a legal presumption that if a firefighter (career or volunteer) is diagnosed with a particular type of cancer, then there is a legal presumption that the cancer resulted from their employment or engagement as a firefighter under the firefighter presumptive cancer legislation.

Workers’ compensation claims for fire service occupational cancer are accepted even if presumptive legislation does not apply or exist in a particular State or Territory. Specialised legal representation is necessary if presumption does not apply.

If you are diagnosed with any industrial disease, you should seek specialised legal assistance with your industrial disease claim, as these claims are complex due to the nature of the disease combined with technical legal arguments about burden of proof and scientific certainty.

Our Accreditated Specialist, Leeha James, is one of Australia’s leading experts in Firefighting, Cancer and Compensations with over 20 years experience in this area.

The above is general information only and not intended to be legal advice. You should not rely on this information to make decisions but should seek expert legal advice about your specific circumstances.