Peak body calls for national response to protect tradesmen from silicosis

Australia’s peak body representing lung health professionals has recently warned people working with dust, including those working with engineered or artificial stone products used to manufacture kitchen and bathroom benchtops, as well as dust from mining and tunneling that they may be at risk of lung disease.

The Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand urged employers to ensure effective safety measures are implemented as silicosis is one of the several occupational lung diseases that is making a comeback.

“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,” said Prof. Allan Glanville, President of the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand.

“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 are progressive and irreversible lung diseases that could be fatal, which 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.

A/Prof. Deborah Yates who presented the topic Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis (Black Lung) during the Asian Pacific Society of Respirology (APSR) Congress 2017 said cases of silicosis are unlikely to be limited to one 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,” she said.

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

The Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand is calling for a national registry of cases of occupational lung diseases, as well as effective dust control and health surveillance measures.

“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. Action is required to improve detection and prevention, but these measures will require funding, and to be effective, must be applied nationally. Eradication of work-related lung disease must be our aim,” said Professor Glanville.