12 Nov A personal experience with silica dust
Having 20/20 vision
After reading a recent WorkSafe article about silica dust, I feel so lucky and privileged.
Why? As a young man, I served my apprenticeship as a carpenter, and in those days, PPE was something that sounded like a disease that one would not like to catch. I still remember cutting sheets of asbestos with a screaming skillsaw, and getting the dust in my eyes, mouth, and up my nose – we never really thought much about it.
So, why do I feel lucky? Being 70+ years of age, I’m still here to enjoy the day.
Unfortunately, this is not the case for many New Zealand workers and their families who have been exposed to the horrible death that is asbestosis, emphysema, and now silica dust poisoning.
Several years ago, I visited an old hunting mate who was dying of emphysema, that was directly linked to his exposure to agriculture spray. I can still clearly hear his words – he had tears in his eyes and struggled for breath while breathing through his oxygen mask – “Gordon, I can’t even walk to the letterbox without this bloody oxygen bottle and even then, it’s a struggle”. I don’t mind admitting it, but we cried together and remembered the good days wandering the hills smelling the early morning wet dew as the sun rose to another great day.
If this sounds like a sentimental sob story to emphasise a genuine health and safety issue, it’s not. It’s real and scenes like this are being acted out by many New Zealand and Australian families every day. The tragedy is that this kind of slow debilitating death is avoidable, and it only becomes real when someone and their family close to you becomes the victim.
In 2015, the National Government set an ambitious goal to reduce the fatality rate in New Zealand workplaces by 25% by 2020. The irony of this goal is that 20/20 is also hindsight. We are only seven weeks away from the year 2020, and from the current workplace stats, we are making very little headway with health and safety in New Zealand. The aforementioned WorkSafe article about silica dust will alert many, but for many families, it’s too late.
So, smell the fresh air, enjoy the day, and let’s count our blessings.
Written by Gordon Anderson, Managing Director of Hasmate