The Australian Workers Union says there are 600,000 Australian workers who are breathing in silica dust every day, as it pushes for tougher national regulations.
The AWU says these many thousands of workers are at risk of developing the deadly lung disease silicosis, and have accused the Federal Government of bowing to industry pressure in failing to protect them.
It says Preliminary reforms recommended by the Federal Government’s National Dust Disease Taskforce only provide extra protection for stonemasons – leaving the construction industry, miners, quarry workers and tunnellers “out in the cold.”
It wants a national regulation setting out minimum benchmarks to protect workers in every affected industry, with tough penalties for employers who fail to comply.
“Our safety standards and their enforcement in Australia are so shameful that even workers in the USA and Mexico have better protection from silica dust,” the AWU said in a statement.
Part of the reforms would include a national health screening program to identify and help those at risk and a register for every single diagnosed case of silicosis.
Leading dust diseases law firm, Maurice Blackburn (MB), is supporting the call for stricter silica regulations at a national level.
MB Principal Jonathan Walsh said that the Government’s lack of urgency in addressing the issue is threatening the lives and livelihoods of many thousands of workers.
“I’ve said previously the reforms recommended by the Government’s National Dust Diseases Taskforce’s interim report are pathetic and weak.”
“Workers are dying but the Federal Government is effectively sitting on its hands instead of moving quickly to ensure the health and safety of workers.”
“It is not enough for the Government to focus only on engineered stone when we know that other workers, such as miners and tunnellers can be similarly exposed to highly dangerous levels of silica dust and develop chronic or fatal lung conditions.”
Silicosis is an aggressive form of pneumoconiosis, a debilitating respiratory disease, which is often fatal. The progressive and irreversible disease is contracted when tiny particles of silica dust are breathed in and settles in the lungs.
Last year, insurance and care provider icare NSW urged at-risk workers to hold their employers to account and ensure they receive regular, ongoing screening for silica-dust exposure.
Dr Nick Allsop, icare Group Executive Care, said icare had seen a 328 per cent spike in demand for screening for silica dust exposure since 2017.
Dr Graeme Edwards, a Brisbane physician who has tested hundreds of stone workers as part of a statewide audit, has previously said that he predicts the silicosis health crisis will become worse than asbestosis.
“We’re talking about a major epidemic that we don’t fully appreciate right now – it’s absolutely in a league of its own.”
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