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Work-Related Lung Diseases Making a Resurgence

“Dust diseases arise from one cause only – dust – and it is unacceptable that any cases should be occurring in Australia today.”

lung disease Australia’s peak body for lung health professionals is demanding a national response after hearing that work-related lung diseases are on the rise. The Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) issued an official alert; workers who are regularly exposed to dusts may be at serious risk of developing a lung disease, and workplaces must do more to protect the health of their workers.

The alert comes after the Asian Pacific Society of Respirology (APSR) Congress 2017, where international and national experts discussed the spike of new silicosis cases in relatively young tradespeople across the country. Alarmingly, the TSANZ say silicosis is just one of a number of occupational lung diseases that is making a comeback.

Professor Allan Glanville, President of TSANZ, said these lung diseases should be a thing of the past, but that poor workplace controls were allowing their resurgence. “This resurgence in occupational lung diseases should have clinicians, tradespeople and industry on alert. These are diseases we thought had almost been eradicated, but thanks to exposure to high levels of dust and poor control measures they’re resurfacing.”

“To make matters worse, the disease progression is much faster than we’ve seen before, and the people affected much younger. We need a national response.”

Pneumoconioses (which include silicosis and coal mine lung dust diseases) are progressive, irreversible and sometimes fatal lung diseases caused by prolonged exposure to  crystalline silica, quartz and coal dusts. There is no known treatment or cure, but they can be prevented with proper workplace dust controls.

Recently, Queensland committed $25 million to preventing further cases of pneumoconiosis, after the state recorded 25 confirmed case between 2015-17 (see related article). Associate Professor Deborah Yates warned that cases are unlikely to be limited to that state alone.

“To date, there have been 54 cases of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis described in Queensland. This is 54 too many. And other states are likely to be far from immune from this disease.”

TSANZ are calling for a national registry of cases of occupational lung diseases, as well as effective dust control and health surveillance measures. They say an occupational lung registry would allow early notification of cases and appropriate investigation to prevent other people from being affected, as well as accurate information about the prevalence of these diseases.

“For over a year now we have been calling for consistent, nationwide action to protect workers from lung diseases caused by workplace exposures. Occupational lung diseases are entirely preventable diseases that should not be occurring in modern Australia. But without mandatory reporting, we don’t even know how many people are affected, or where they are” – Prof Glanville.


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