Deadly daily grind

They were young, fit and loved their jobs – but now hundreds of Australian stonemasons face a death sentence

It’s the kitchen bench you notice as soon as you walk in to Josh Hunt’s home. Solid, durable, with top-shelf 40mm edging, it was once a source of pride, cut and installed by Hunt after he was given the engineered stone by his employer as a bonus for hard work.

It’s now a constant reminder that working with this stone has turned his old life to dust.

“I put everything into that company and then, nothing,” says the 28-year-old former stonemason at his Caboolture home. “I worked away from my family, I missed so much. For what? To lose it all.”

Hunt now spends most days at home, unable to work in his trade because he has silicosis, a disease that irreversibly scars and stiffens the lungs, caused by inhaling the silica dust that comes off stone when it’s being cut. It can be fatal. His prognosis is unclear but his lung capacity has fallen significantly in the past year. He’s depressed and suffers anxiety.

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