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Legal case

Stonemason given £3.5 million settlement

A stonemason who worked on renovating Elgin Cathedral accepted a £3.5 million settlement after being diagnosed with industrial respiratory disease

A stonemason, Gordon Walters, who worked on renovating and maintaining Elgin Cathedral, Moray, in the 1980’s has accepted a settlement offer of £3.5 million after being diagnosed with silicosis and systematic lupus erythematosus (SLE). This is thought to be one of the largest settlements for a worker who has been diagnosed with silicosis and SLE.


Silicosis is an industrial disease affecting the lungs and is caused by inhaling respirable crystalline silica dust particles, commonly found in some types of rock, sand and clay. It is a cumulative disease and is caused by repeated exposure over a period of time. Typically, it takes around 10 to 20 years for symptoms of silicosis to develop. SLE is an autoimmune disease that can also be caused by inhaling silica dust particles.

Silica dust particles present an occupational risk in particular to people working in the stone masonry and construction sectors. The occupational risk of silica dust was first identified in the early 1900’s and the health issues it caused were recognised in the Workmen’s Compensation (Silicosis) Act 1918.

Historically silica dust exposure was particularly high in Scotland as it was found in the sandstone commonly used in buildings. One research paper has suggested that between 1872 and 1911 as many as 37% of stonemasons in Scotland died from exposure to silica dust (“Death in the new town: Edinburgh’s hidden story of stonemasons’ silicosis.”, Journal of the Royal College of Edinburgh).

Exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust is now regulated by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. As of January 2020, the Regulations state that 0.1 milligrams per cubic metre of air is the maximum exposure limit to respirable crystalline silica within an 8-hour period.

Gordon Walters’ Claim

Gordon Walters trained and worked as a stonemason. In the 1980’s he worked at Elgin Cathedral in Moray on its renovation and maintenance. At the time of this work, he was employed by the Scottish Development Department of the Scotland Office. While carrying out the maintenance and renovation work, he was exposed to crystalline silica dust from the stone.

As a result of the exposure, Gordon Walters was diagnosed with SLE in the mid-1990’s and had to retire. He was later also diagnosed with silicosis. It is claimed that throughout his time working at Elgin Cathedral Mr Walters was provided with little or no safety equipment to limit his exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust. After his work at Elgin Cathedral, Mr Walters carried out work on other projects where he was provided with adequate safety equipment.

Due to the silicosis and SLE Mr Walters now has severe health problems and requires full time care. After consulting his union, he instructed solicitors to bring a claim against his old employers. The Scottish government, the previous owners to the public body that now owns the cathedral, have confirmed that ministers agreed to settle the case for £3.5 million. This is thought to be one of the largest settlements for someone who has been diagnosed with these conditions.

Impact of the claim

The settlement figure reached in this claim is likely to be so high due to the severity of the disease, the level of care that Mr Walters now requires, and the impact it has had on his income/ earnings. The case demonstrates that silicosis is not only a historical issue and that claims are still being pursued.

Silica dust still presents a hazard today, specifically to construction workers. For example, it is found in stone that is used in modern kitchen designs. Due to this, it is thought that cases of silicosis may now be on the rise. With that in mind, employers will need to be aware of the risks. Mr Walters’ case has shown that claims for silicosis can be very high value due to the disease’s severity.

The case of Gordon Walters serves as a reminder of the importance of limiting exposure and providing safety equipment to workers. Although Elgin Cathedral was not the only place Mr Walters was exposed to silica dust, its owners were the only party found to be liable due to the lack of safety measures in place.

Should you wish to discuss this article further or any of the points raised surrounding occupational disease, then please contact our expert team of occupational disease solicitors.