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A Geelong man is suffering from a serious inflammatory disease because of the lack of PPE he was provided at work, despite him being exposed to harmful airborne particles every shift.

Luke Taylor, 43, says he was not provided proper face masks by his employer, Engineering Resources, to protect him from inhaling the fly ash and sand particles. Nor was he provided with one by the company where he was contracted to carry out maintenance work from about 2016, Visy Paper. This is despite the sand particles he was handling and inhaling having a high concentration of granite, making it as dangerous as silica dust.

Mr Taylor’s job involved operating a furnace that burned tons of rubbish in silos, which created steam for Visy’s Coolaroo paper mill. He said a by-product of the burning rubbish was exposure to fly ash.

He was also required to filter sand used in the furnace, which was a dusty process, and instructs that he was not provided with adequate protective equipment for.

Mr Taylor said a few months after he began working at Visy, he started getting regular headaches and developed a cough, which his colleagues called the “co-gen cough” because it was so common among staff. It was apparently named after the co-generation furnace.

His health worsened and he began experiencing backaches and other symptoms in his legs. He said after speaking up about the need for better safety measures at the workplace, he learned his position had been advertised without him knowing, prompting him to resign to search for a safer workplace.

Although Mr Taylor did find another job soon after, his health continued to deteriorate, requiring him to take a lot of sick leave. Eventually it became impossible for him to work altogether.

He was sent for an MRI in mid-2019, that revealed he had enlarged lymph nodes. A lung biopsy then led to a diagnosis of sarcoidosis – a disease characterised by the growth of tiny collections of inflammatory cells in any part of the body that are commonly found in the lungs and lymph nodes. Or as he explains it: “Essentially, I’ve got a foreign body inside of me that my body is continually trying to fight off”.

Mr Taylor said he is consistently short of breath and struggles to perform any sort of physical activity or heavy lifting.

“I have problems with my legs, which often feel heavy or as if they’re asleep. I also get pins and needles in my leg and joint pains, which largely impact my lower back, knees and elbows,” he said.

“I feel lethargic all the time and get warn out really quickly, so while I can be full of energy early in the day, by about 1pm, I’m fighting to stay awake. I have to take steroids daily and other medication to help with the joint pain and migraines, so it’s having a huge impact on me.

“I’ve put on weight too because of the steroids I take, and I struggle to sleep because of the constant pain, and sometimes a rash appears all over my body. It’s hell.”

He also struggles to looks after and play with his children, aged 4 and 10.

Mr Taylor said is frustrated that his health woes could have been avoided if he had been provided proper protective gear that staff are now required to wear at the workplace.

He is currently in receipt of WorkCover benefits, but he said the process was one that “no one would want to go through if they didn’t have to”. Yet he said he was determined to get justice for what is a work injury.

He has also been warned by doctors to take extreme care during the pandemic as he’s vulnerable to catching covid because of his respiratory problems. He said he was essentially isolating himself from everyone to reduce the risk of him contracting it, which was impacting his mental health.

Mr Taylor’s lawyer, Associate Audrey Gunn, from Slater and Gordon, said his situation highlighted why it was so important that all employers and employees prioritised workplace safety.

“No one should be injured at work and Luke’s life has unfairly been turned upside down through what appears to have been no fault of his own,” she said. “This could have and should have easily been avoided.”

Media Contact:

Andrea Petrie on 0428 994 937