In the last few months, there have been quite a few developments concerning the occupational lung diseases, specifically silicosis, in Australia and overseas.
Sadly, more silicosis human stories are coming to light almost every week. The youngest person to have been diagnosed with this preventable but irreversible disease is only 22, a young stonemason on the Gold Coast.
The latest statistics, as of mid September, is 260 confirmed cases across Australia with 166 in Queensland, 61 in Victoria, 23 in NSW, five in Tasmania, three in WA, and one each in the ACT and SA. In SA there are also 66 cases where workers need specialist follow-up.
In New Zealand, the authorities are anticipating first silicosis diagnoses after issuing a silica alert in May. It is believed at least 1000 Kiwis may have been exposed to respirable silica dust in the workplace.
The government is continuing to take measures to curb the crisis.
The Australian Government Department of Health has established a National Dust Disease Taskforce to develop a national approach to the prevention, early identification, control and management of dust diseases in Australia.
Each state, in turn, is fighting its own battle
Queensland, where silicosis cases has tripped this year, leads the way. The state has launched the nation’s first code of practice for managing silica exposure in the stone benchtop industry, announced it will spend $1.21 million dollars over two years to create a free mobile lung screening service for mine workers, and conducted urgent audits of stonemason businesses to ensure unsafe work practices cease. Queensland has also set up the Notifiable Dust Lung Disease Register. From now on, all cases of silicosis, pneumoconiosis and other occupational lung diseases will be recorded there.
SafeWork Western Australia has also been conducting safety inspections of kitchen stone bench businesses in the state with nearly 30 workplaces having been inspected and over 200 improvement notices issued.
Victoria has banned dry cutting of the engineered stone and halved the silica permissible levels. NSW has also moved a notion to lower the PEL. See more on this topic below.