A Holden worker with 45 years’ service and long-term exposure to dust, metals and oil without masks or ventilation has won his case against the car maker’s refusal in 2012 to pay compensation.
The man, listed in court documents as James Bailey*, has interstitial lung disease, which is associated with breathlessness, and has been rejected for a lung transplant.
Those close to the case told InDaily the man is a “hard working family man” who had sought compensation when his disease became life-threatening and medical expenses escalated.
Holden’s lawyers confirmed today the company had appealed the Workers Compensation Tribunal decision in favour of the worker.
Bailey stopped working in early 2012 due to the disease, shortly after lodging a compensation claim in March 2012 which Holden rejected in April of that year.
Bailey filed a notice of dispute with the Workers Compensation Tribunal.
In submissions to the tribunal Holden conceded that Bailey was exposed to significant quantities of silica dust and iron dust while at work for it between 1967 and 1992 at the Woodville plant before he moved to the Elizabeth factory.
The company said, however, that the cause of his lung disease was unknown and there was no connection between Bailey’s lung disease and his employment, and that it was justified in rejecting Bailey’s claim.
The Tribunal judge disagreed.
“Based on a common sense evaluation of the evidence, I find the notion that there is a probable connection between the very lengthy exposure to silica, iron and dust generally and the contraction of the disease, almost irresistible,” Judge Brian Gilchrist said.
The Tribunal heard evidence that showed Bailey had been reporting breathing problems to Holden’s medical staff since the early 1990s.
It also heard evidence from the worker and his wife that he had started to cough up black mucus and blood just a few years into his time at Holden’s Woodville operation.
“He was involved in grinding the shapes of car parts.
“The grinding stones that he used were made up of silica to bind them together.
“He said that at times the dust in his work area was so thick it could be seen in the air and it needed to be swept up with a dust pan.
“He said that the work environment at Woodville was poorly ventilated.”
The court heard, but later rejected, dated recollections from his wife that between 1974 and 1980 he was coughing up and blowing black mucus into his handkerchief that was mixed with blood.
After he moved to the Elizabeth plant, Bailey said he did a little grinding but said he used a mask.
He said that he was exposed to some fibreglass dust at the Elizabeth plant when he was working on the production of prototypes and to an acid-type solvent.
The Tribunal heard that the first indication of some sort of lung problem was recorded in an entry of Jobfit (a medical service provided by Holden) of 23 June 1994 which records a complaint of shortness of breath. So too did entries on 15 November 1995, 17 April 1997, 29 November 2007, 25 November 2008 and 11 March 2009.
The Judge considered expert medical evidence submitted by Holden and by Bailey.
“… what is involved here is not simply an exercise of rating the various medical opinions and preferring one medical opinion to others,” Judge Gilchrist said in his decision.
“The issue before me is simply whether I am satisfied on all of the evidence presented, for legal purposes, that is to say, on the balance of probabilities, whether the worker has proved his case.”
On that score, Gilchrist concluded that: “Bailey has had an occupational exposure of the best part of 25 years to substances known to be associated with interstitial lung disease.
“Based on a common sense evaluation of the evidence, I find the notion that there is a probable connection between the very lengthy exposure to silica, iron and dust generally and the contraction of the disease, almost irresistible.”
Gilchrist said the evidence of all of the thoracic physicians admitted the possibility of a connection and two of them, Professor Glanville and Dr Holmes-Liew, positively supported the hypothesis.
“I find that Mr Bailey’s occupational exposure in the course of his employment with Holden materially contributed to his contraction of interstitial lung disease,” the judge said.
Judge Gilchrist set aside Holden’s rejection of the claim and asked the company to make further submissions on Mr Bailey’s entitlements.
It was noted in the evidence that the worker’s life expectancy with the disease was around 2-3 years from 2012.
Solicitors for Bailey refused to comment; Holden’s solicitors said the company had appealed the decision.
*The court documents used the name Bailey as a pseudonym to protect the worker’s identity.
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