(As told to Dr David Fishwick, Chief Medical Officer at the Health and Safety Laboratory)
Terry was an outstandingly active youngster, playing rugby, football and cross country, as well as training in karate, even achieving a black belt and remaining exceptionally fit and involved in martial arts well into his thirties.
Having started work at 16 and then working for over 30 years with different types of stone and marble, Terry’s job as a stone mason was, he recalls, “like weight training,” requiring him to move large pieces of stone by day, which he says developed his upper body strength whilst his karate at night involved a lot of development of leg strength.
In his own words, Terry says, “I was as fit as a butcher’s dog.”
Everything changed however one day when he was on holiday in Spain. It was a warm day and Terry and his wife had been shopping in a hilly area, which, being a keen walker, had never bothered him before.
To his surprise, Terry found, as they were walking home with their groceries, that he was breathless and had chest pains.
He recalls, “I had to sit down on the pavement because I just couldn’t breathe.”
Terry knew something was wrong, especially since the pain in his chest continued for at least two weeks after returning from Spain.
He went to his GP who referred him to a lung consultant.
Terry was devastated when he was subsequently diagnosed with silicosis, a serious respiratory condition that will almost certainly shorten his life, as a result of breathing in respirable crystalline silica (RCS).
He says, “I never realised that my lungs had been damaged and it was starting to take effect on my general health … Through no fault of my own, I’d got this disease.”
The impact on Terry’s life has been profound.
He says, “I’ve always been an active person. My wife’s an active person and so are my children … I was set on the side of any activity because I can’t walk fast … I definitely can’t run. I used to do some swimming but I started to get short of breath and if you’re in the middle of the swimming pool, there’s nowhere else to go. So it was too dangerous.”
Dr Fishwick says it is clear from a description of Terry’s working life that he has been exposed to significant amounts of stone dust, particularly in the last few years of his working life where he worked with sandstone containing 90%crystalline silica.
Terry describes “intense” work with stone dust in a small area, creating the conditions for an ill health “disaster”.
Terry has the following advice for young people who are working with silica today.
He says, “All I can say to all the apprentices is who work with silica is: You must protect yourself and be aware of the regulations. You’re not being a trouble-causer. You’re not being a whistle-blower. You’re protecting your own life and other people around you. You must adhere to the regulations and your employers must adhere to the regulations.”
He adds, “While they’re young, people are invincible. They’re Johnny Concrete. They’re unbelievably strong … but eventually concrete erodes and so does your body … and you will ruin your lives by not doing what you’re supposed to do.”