Workers say minerals company ‘failed’ them over toxic dust

Ex-factory workers with deadly dust-related diseases blame their former employer for allegedly failing them in the workplace. Here they share their stories.

Former factory workers ­suffering from deadly dust-­related diseases have called on their ex-employer to “stand tall and take responsibility” for allegedly failing to provide a safe workplace.

Kevin Weekes, Dianne Adams and Denis Hardy are among seven Unimin workers to launch lawsuits against the global minerals company for toxic dust exposure, with more expected to follow.

They each worked at Unimin’s silica milling factories in Lang Lang and Dandenong in Melbourne’s southeast.

They have shared their stories following a Sunday Herald Sun report last year about ­Unimin’s Bradley Konndouras suing the factory following his battle with scleroderma.

The workers have said they were oblivious to the dangers of silica dust to their health and that little training or ­personal protective equipment and clothing was provided.

Mr Weekes, 53, had worked for Unimin for 28 years before the company declared him medically unfit after his silicosis diagnosis and made him redundant in 2019.

They just wiped their hands of me,” the Cranbourne father of two said. “They would always say they cared about our health and safety but obviously they failed to protect us.

“This is a real chance for the company to stand tall and take responsibility and say we will look after these workers and not just make them redundant and forget about them.”

Mr Weekes said that with better practices around PPE, dust extraction and washing the sand and gravel before it dried, companies could prevent such diseases.

He said it wasn’t until after his terminal diagnosis that he was provided airflow helmets.

“As far as I’m concerned that’s too little, too late.”

Mr Weekes doesn’t know what the future holds, as his hopes of working until retirement then travelling around Australia with wife, Debra, diminish.

He fears he won’t be around to his see his two daughters — Sharni, 28 and Tegan, 26 — get married and have children.

“The scary thing is I don’t know how much time I have left and I’ve been told to get my affairs in order,” he said.

Dianne Adams, 58, from Kongwak in South Gippsland, worked at Unimin for 19 years, bagging sand, gravel and silica.

She now has silicosis and lupus.

“You walked into the place and it was really dusty,” Ms Adams said. “I wasn’t aware of how dangerous it was. When I started we didn’t even have face masks.”

Though awareness of silicosis is growing across the mining, construction, engineering and stonemasonry industries, Shine Lawyers’ Roger Singh said many workers did not know they were also at risk of auto-immune diseases.

Mr Singh said it was critical a final report — due in June by the National Dust Disease Taskforce — endorsed long overdue reforms to workplace health and safety regulations.

“We need to see a national ban on dry-cutting of engineered stone, a licensing ­system for stonemasonry ­facilities, a tough cop on the beat in the form of an auditor, and mandatory personal protective equipment and air ventilation,” Mr Singh said.

Dianne Adams, Denis Hardy and Kevin Weeks.

Dianne Adams, Denis Hardy and Kevin Weeks.

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