Ken finds it hard to breathe after a decent meal. He wishes he’d chosen a different job

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After 20 years as a stonemason, Ken Parker wishes he’d chosen a different job.

At 48, his lungs are so ragged that he can’t even mow his lawn without becoming puffed. He’s now hoping for a lung transplant.

Ken Parker says he’s suffering more than ever with silicosis and finds it hard to breathe.Credit: Rhett Wyman

“And I’ve discovered now that after a decent-sized meal, I find it hard to breathe,” Parker said from his home in Barry, in NSW’s central west.

In February, a photograph of Parker hooked up to a tangle of tubes and wires at St Vincent’s Hospital made him the face of the silicosis scourge affecting Australia’s tradies.

Ten months later, he was asked how he’d been faring since that photograph featured in a report by this masthead on February 19 exposing the failure of regulators to protect stonemasons exposed to dust particles when cutting and shaping engineered stone slabs.

“Going reasonably well, getting slowly worse,” he said.

The picture of Parker in February having his lung capacity tested at St Vincent’s Hospital.Credit: Steven Siewert

Reflecting on his experience since speaking out, Parker welcomed the attention it gave to the toll on those working with the product commonly used in kitchens and bathrooms.

“Someone definitely had to do it,” he said. “[The diagnosis]makes everything a lot more immediate … I think you live a lot more for today than you do for tomorrow.”

A majority of federal, state and territory workplace health and safety ministers agreed on Wednesday to a national prohibition on engineered stone from July 2024.

But Parker expressed frustration at the lack of urgency in the months since Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke entreated ministers’ in February to accelerate consideration of a ban.

“I think it should be immediate, personally. I see no reason to prolong it. They’ve had enough time to know what’s coming. I think it should just happen and be done,” he said.

At Parliament House on Wednesday, hours before the agreement was struck, former stonemason Kyle Goodwin asked why it had taken so long for the meeting to happen.

“I was diagnosed five years ago, and people were diagnosed before me,” he said. “It should have happened months, if not years ago.”

Goodwin, who was given between five and eight years to live at the time of his diagnosis, said it was only recently that the country faced a similar crisis relating to asbestosis, and this was “just another example of a preventable industrial disease”.

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