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Successful silicosis claims of three Stonemasons against their former employer highlights why the HSE’s ongoing ‘Dust Kills’ campaign is so important

The UK’s national safety regulator, the Health and Safety Executive (‘HSE’), describes silica dust as “the single biggest risk to construction workers after asbestos.” In their recent ‘Dust Kills’ campaign launched earlier this year, the HSE’s Chief Inspector of Construction, Michael Thomas, stated:

“Every year we see construction workers die from diseases that are caused or made worse by their work. This is unacceptable in the 21st Century, when occupational lung disease is preventable.” 

Starting from May 2023, HSE inspections have been specifically focused on dust control as part of a respiratory health intervention initiative. Inspectors have been checking that employers and workers know the risks of exposure, plan their work and are using the right controls. The aim of this initiative is to prevent at-risk workers from dangerous levels of occupational exposure to silica dust and the potential consequences of this, namely the development of silicosis and other lung diseases. 


Silicosis is only one form of lung condition that can be caused by silica dust exposure. Silica can also cause Lung Cancer, COPD, tuberculosis and rheumatological disease.

The most common type of disease, however, is Silicosis, which is a form of pulmonary fibrosis. The disease is caused by breathing in fine silica dust, a common mineral found in certain types of rock, stone, sand and clay. The condition affects many workers exposed to silica dust in jobs such as construction, mining and stonemasonry. 

Silicosis can result in debilitating respiratory symptoms, including a persistent cough, shortness of breath and general fatigue. Sadly, it can also increase an individual’s risk of developing more serious and potentially life-threatening conditions, such as tuberculosis and lung cancer. 

The condition can be managed effectively if harmful exposure is halted and the condition is treated early in a manner that helps alleviate the individual’s symptoms. However, once developed, silicosis is incurable, as the damage caused to the lungs is irreversible.

Legal claims involving occupational exposure to silica dust and the resultant development of silicosis and other lung diseases are sadly becoming far more common place. 

Notwithstanding the HSE’s provision of detailed guidance on the control of exposure to silica dust in the workplace, there are many individuals who have not been and are not being adequately protected by their employer. These employees are consequently required to live with the irreversible and devastating consequences of their employer’s negligence. 

In the last 12 months Workplace Illness specialist lawyers at Irwin Mitchell were able to help three such individuals who developed silicosis, by securing a successful settlement for them via a set of joint claims brought against their former employer. 

Case Study 

Back in early 2020, our Newcastle team were contacted by three Stonemasons, all of whom were employed by a large engineering and construction company in the 1980s, 90s and 2000s. 

During the course of their employment, all three Claimants were negligently exposed to silica dust when using grinders, pneumatic breakers and other hand tools to work on stone materials. Their employer did not implement measures to remove or reduce the dust levels produced, and particularly did not provide any adequate respiratory protection. All three men developed respiratory symptoms many years after working for the company. 

All three Claimants had seen a significant decline in their overall levels of fitness as a result of the disease, which had significantly impacted upon their work and capacity to earn, as well as their social and family life. In addition to these challenges, the Claimants were also now required to come to terms with the increased risk of them potentially life-threatening conditions, such as tuberculosis and lung cancer

Given their similarities, all three cases were managed together through the court proceedings process. Medical and engineering experts were instructed and all three claims were fully quantified. The Claimant’s former employer initially denied liability and sought to contest the cases on medical causation grounds, as well as arguing that the claims were out of time.

It is quite common for people to receive a late diagnosis of Silicosis, as initial medical investigations can often conclude that the fibrotic disease is naturally occurring. As a consequence, some Claimants can find themselves facing arguments that they have not brought their claims to court within the required 3 year time limit. This was the case in two out of three claims in this instance, as early diagnoses of Sarcoidosis (a naturally occurring but very similar condition to Silicosis) were made. 

The three claims were listed to be heard together in the High Court in London, but shortly before the trial was due to start, the Defendant settled all three claims. Significant settlement sums were recovered commensurate the level of respiratory disability that each Claimant was suffering from. All three Claimants were able to settle their cases on a provisional basis, meaning that they are free to return to court for additional compensation if their condition worsened, or they developed any of the other conditions that they were at risk of developing as a consequence of their silica exposure.

The cases were initially pursued by Roger Maddocks, with assistance from Amber Price, before I took over following Roger’s retirement and brought the claims to a successful conclusion. 


Whilst this settlement constituted crucial recognition of an employer’s negligence in exposing three Stonemasons to dangerous levels of silica dust without adequate respiratory protection, these cases highlight just how important the HSE’s ‘Dust Kills’ campaign is. The consequences of negligent exposure are life-long, devastating and potentially deadly for the individuals involved. When these consequences are entirely preventable, action by employers to protect their employees is absolutely imperative. 

To read more about the HSE’s ‘Dust Kills’ campaign, please follow the link below. 

Construction Dust - Work Right to keep Britain safe

To find out more about how Irwin Mitchell can support you with pursuing legal action for a silica related lung condition, please follow the link below.

Silicosis Compensation Claims | Irwin Mitchell