‘Accelerated silicosis the tip of the iceberg.’ - Physicians call for national approach to protect workers

 20 February 2023

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians says that the disease caused by silica dust is another example that Australian work, health and safety systems have failed to protect workers from completely preventable occupational diseases.

The RACP’s members were appointed to the National Dust Disease Taskforce and the RACP supports the full implementation of its recommendations from the 2021 National Dust Disease Taskforce report.  This includes the recommendation to ban engineered stone from mid 2024 if other necessary recommended workplace health and safety requirements are not introduced.

The College says the ‘Last Gasp’ investigation from Nine newspapers shows damning evidence that workers continue to be exposed to silica dust at work.

Occupational and Environment Physician, AFOEM President and RACP Spokesperson Dr Warren Harrex says “Despite the first case of accelerated silicosis being reported in Australia in 2015, we still have no idea about the extent of this disease across Australia.

“We need a national dust disease reporting system and national dust disease registry as a matter of priority.

“Accelerated silicosis is just the tip of the iceberg of dust causing harm to workers, as dust exposure which may cause silicosis and other diseases is common in many occupations across Australia.

“Dust exposure in workers may not be evident until retirement, with chronic obstructive lung disease contributing to a burden on public health expenditure.

“Regular air monitoring of potentially dusty workplaces should be mandatory, and potentially exposed workers require mandatory and ongoing health surveillance.

The RACP has repeatedly expressed concern about the increasing number of new cases of accelerated silicosis diagnosed in Australia over the past decade and has actively advocated for more action.

“We also want to see better support for specialist physicians to engage employers, supervisors, workplace regulators and unions to assess hazards which may be work, health and safety issues.” Dr Harrex said.

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