Physicians say increase in silicosis cases must be a catalyst for NSW Government action

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) says that the news that silicosis cases have risen by 70 in the first half of the financial year is unsurprising and highlights the need for urgent action by the NSW Government.

Dr Graeme Edwards, an occupational medicine expert and RACP Fellow who has been advocating for urgent, cohesive action across Australian states and territories says:

“It’s not surprising that we’re seeing this jump in cases of silicosis, and we expect to see this figure continue to rise. There is still a dire need for better-targeted, state-level processes for the high-risk workers who have already been exposed to silica dust.

“We welcome the “public education blitz” but if it is not associated with targeted and effective call to action, it will not find the cases we know need help now.

“Once workers have a diagnosis of silicosis, Icare have processes that can support them. But, critically, we lack a coordinated approach to connecting with and supporting the high-risk workers who are yet to develop sufficient damage in their lungs or immune system in order to be identified by current legislated screening processes. 

“There are still workers in the community who have this disease and are yet to be diagnosed and treated. These are the people who may benefit the most from early intervention.

“It’s important that we not only provide the best healthcare support to those who have tragically been diagnosed with silicosis – but also that we identify people who have already been exposed to the dust but not yet diagnosed.”

“The national taskforce has already highlighted important steps necessary to tackle this crisis. The RACP appreciates the opportunity to assist in coordinating the medical specialists’ response and we are aware of some very good work happening around the country, often behind the scenes.

“We again call on the NSW Government to urgently establish a dust diseases register to track all high-risk workers who have been exposed to silica dust and who will require follow-up testing.” Dr Edwards said.

Accelerated silicosis is a preventable occupational lung disease occurring in workers as a result of exposure to silica dust. This can occur in various industries, but the recent spike in cases is related to the manufacture and installation of artificial stone bench tops. 

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