A young Victorian stonemason who recruited his brother and three of his best mates into the industry is now part of a class action after they were all diagnosed with deadly lung disease.
Law firm Slater and Gordon says companies that make artificial stone have failed to properly warn workers about the severe health risks their products pose and how it must be handled to avoid serious and potentially fatal harm.
They are planning a national class action on behalf of affected workers, with at least 135 stonemasons diagnosed with silicosis in Victoria and Queensland alone.
Doctors fear many more cases will emerge from a product some have dubbed 'the new asbestos'.
Lawyer Margaret Kent says harm caused to workers dry-cutting manufactured stone, and not wearing adequate protective gear, ultimately rests with companies that make the product.
"The extreme levels of harm caused by dust from stone bench-top products in Australia can be traced back to a small number of manufacturers," she said in a statement on Thursday.
The class action is intended to supplement existing workers' compensation entitlements and wants to hear from workers who fear they may have been exposed.
Joel Goldby was just 15 when he started work cutting artificial stone benchtops in Queensland.
Now 28, he struggles to breathe.
Diagnosed only last week, Joel does not know what the future holds.
But he and his mates are in the fight of their lives against deadly lung diseases from exposure to silica dust.
The best Mr Goldby can hope for is that his symptoms don't get worse.
"I am short of breath all the time, it just feels like my lungs are heaps tighter than they should be," he said.
"I had no idea it was even a possibility or I wouldn't have got my best friends and my brother to work there."
While Joel is still working in the industry in Victoria, his mates aren't so lucky, struggling to make ends meet while surviving on Workcover.
"I know about 30 plus boys who have it now."
Queensland's Connor Downes has been working in the industry for just three years and at 22 is the youngest person diagnosed with the disease.
"It doesn't matter if you've been in the industry five months, five years or 15 years - everyone should get checked," Mr Downes said.
He faces a nervous wait for a six-month check to determine if the silicosis has worsened.
"Until then, I have no way of knowing how severe it is. I can't work and I have things to pay for - cars, mortgage, and no way to pay for it."
In April this year, the federal government established the National Dust Diseases Task Force in response to new cases of accelerated silicosis.
Australian Associated Press