The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) recently committed to addressing silicosis in Australian workplaces through reviewing standards and regulations governing the artificial stone bench-top industry and examining the establishment of a national dust disease register for workers.
Silicosis is a lung disease caused by silica dust, and displays itself by shortness of breath, cough, fever, and cyanosis (bluish skin).
Safe Work Australia has been taking action to address dust hazards and occupational lung diseases for more than ten years, and is part way through implementing a revised national work plan on occupational lung diseases and silicosis.
Commenting on the Government’s commitment, Australian Chamber CEO, James Pearson, said that earlier this year, SWA’s tripartite committee involving unions, employers and WHS regulators reviewed actions to address silicosis in response to increased concern and reports of more silicosis cases.
Since then, SWA has:
- Identified occupational lung diseases as a key priority in its 10-year Australian WHS Strategy.
- Begun an analysis into the feasibility of scoping a national registry for occupational lung diseases.
- Conducted exploratory research into dust exposures in stonemasonry, and options to improve data on occupational lung diseases.
- Begun development of additional guidance materials and education on:
- Minimising dust exposures in small and medium-sized enterprises.
- Helping employers and workers identify hazards and minimise risks in workplaces.
- Delivered a series of six virtual seminars on silicosis, in which leading experts share insights on preventing illness and disease, and controlling worker exposures to dust.
“We look forward to working with Government in increasing awareness of this issue and to equip employers and workers to prevent further harmful exposure wherever possible,” said Pearson.
Dr Graeme Edwards, an occupational physician and Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), said the decision by COAG Health Ministers to review standards and regulations governing the artificial stone bench-top industry is a significant step toward protecting workers.
“While the establishment of a national dust disease register will go some way to providing us with a better understanding of the scale and of the problem and assisting us in identifying individuals earlier in the disease process who may benefit of treatment, it will only work if combined with a national surveillance program,” said Edwards.
“The RACP reiterates our call for an immediate prohibition of dry cutting techniques until safety standards have been thoroughly reviewed and the urgent establishment of a nation program of respiratory health assessments for all people that have worked in the industry.”
The RACP and Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) recently sounded the alarm on silicosis, calling for urgent action by regulators to protect workers in the artificial stone benchtop industry after witnessing an alarming spike in the numbers of people being diagnosed with an accelerated form of the deadly condition.