Health Minister Hunt says government supports review on silicosis

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Federal Government will support the next steps for a national registry on silicosis, during last Friday’s COAG meeting.

According to ABC, the Government would write to Safe Work Australia and urge medical experts to commence a national registry on silicosis.

“We have to move quickly because we have to protect patients and we have to protect families, so our approach is very clear,” Mr. Hunt was quoted as saying.

“We have committed to immediately write to Safe Work Australia to ensure that standards are put in place and that there is a review of existing state-based laws and standards.”

Just recently, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland issued a warning on the risks of exposure to respirable crystalline silica for workers in engineered stone benchtop manufacturing, finishing and installation industries.

“Employers in industries which fabricate or install stone benchtops must immediately ensure they are complying with their duties under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to have adequate dust controls in place. Failure to do so will result in enforcement action being taken,” Queensland’s safety regulator said in its safety alert.

“Accumulated exposure to RCS can cause very serious and debilitating health effects, including silicosis. Note that RCS is smaller than dust which can be seen. It is only tiny dust particles which can get deep into the lungs, called the respirable dust, which is of concern.”

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland says persons conducting a business or undertaking should not allow uncontrolled dry cutting, grinding or polishing of artificial, engineered stone bench tops. It also reminded PCBUs to provide health monitoring to workers where there is a significant risk to a worker’s health due to exposure to respirable crystalline silica.

Pneumoconioses, which is a progressive and irreversible lung disease is caused by prolonged exposure to respirable crystalline silica, quartz, and coal dust. There is currently no known treatment or cure, but the disease can be prevented. It was once thought to be a disease mainly of miners, tunnellers or road workers. But artificial stone kitchen benchtops made of crushed silica rock are exposing a new sector of the workforce to the deadly dust. Levels of dust exposure in traditional industries have also been increasing.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Thoracic Society have called for national health screenings of stonemasons to check for silicosis.

It has been described as Australia’s worst occupational lung disease crisis since asbestos.

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