52-year-old Kevin Winter and his brother, 62-year-old Tony from Barnard Castle, County Durham, are both former quarry workers. They were diagnosed with the irreversible lung disease, silicosis, just a year apart – Kevin in 2007, and Tony in 2008.
Their silicosis was caused by their exposure to silica in stone dust during a combined total of 72 years working in the local quarry where Kevin was a stonemason and Tony a stonecutter.
The dust levels were very high, but they were never told about the dangers. Some control measures were put in place in later years, including a dust extraction system, but as they weren't maintained, they were ineffective.
Since ill health forced him to leave the quarry four years ago, Kevin has been working as a shelf-stacker in a supermarket. He finds it physically demanding, but he's conscious that it is a tough job market, particularly for somebody with his ongoing and debilitating condition. Kevin, like Tony, has lost 30 per cent of his lung capacity through silicosis. He struggles to walk even short distances on an incline, and he worries he might be in a wheelchair before he reaches 60. Both he and his wife Anne worry about what the future will hold.
Tony's condition is also having a very significant impact on his quality of life; he says, "I wouldn't wish this on my enemy – it's like a death sentence". Tony cannot walk very far without needing to rest. He becomes breathless just climbing the stairs and on bad days has a constant dry cough and a burning sensation in his throat and chest. He cannot kick a football with his grandsons, lift one of them up, or even push a pram and he sadly has to avoid them if they have a cold in case he picks up any infections. Tony is also particularly conscious of the effect it is having on his wife Greta, who has to do everything for him. He worries that he is holding her back.
Tony wishes he could turn the clock back. Now he wants to tell other young workers to "think of their health": "If you don't think the protection is adequate, complain about it."
Kevin echoes his brother's sentiments. He wants to tell young workers in the industry to "be really vigilant against the dust", and to "use all the [protective] products on the market, test them, If they're no good get something else".