RACP says respiratory protection program must be on agenda to prevent further silicosis deaths

 27 February 2023

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (AFOEM) and the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) says Workplace Health and Safety Ministers must look beyond a ban on engineered stone and put in place a respiratory protection program for all workers throughout Australia.

Occupational and Environment Physician, AFOEM President and RACP Spokesperson Dr Warren Harrex says “We know that Ministers will be considering a ban on engineered stone when they meet tomorrow, which we support as part of a broader package of urgent reforms that are also required.”

The RACP is calling on Workplace Health and Safety Ministers to commit to these additional measures:

  1. A national respiratory protection program delivered in partnership with states and territories
  2. A national regulatory framework and enforcement plan to which all states and territories are committed
  3. A national clinical occupational respiratory disease registry to track and monitor patient cases and better understand disease progression and treatment interventions.

“If a ban on engineered stone is the only thing that is discussed then we’re really missing the chance to properly reform the sector to prevent further silicosis deaths.

“Even if we ban engineered stone – we will still see other workers developing or dying of silicosis from exposure to other dusts, including in the tunnelling, construction and mining industries. This is why we need a system-wide workplace health and safety reform.

“Sadly, Australia is known internationally for its epidemics of accelerated silicosis, asbestosis and mesothelioma. This is a national disgrace.

“These occupational respiratory diseases are totally preventable and we must use this moment to reform the system to protect workers. That must start with establishing and implementing a national respiratory protection program.

“All dust is dangerous. Our lungs should not be breathing in hazardous dust. Whether it contains silica or not – we need a plan to protect workers from dust.

CEO of the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand Dr Graham Hall agrees “Silica and other dust exposure is not just happening with workers cutting engineered stone for kitchen benchtops. It’s happening in tunnels, construction sites, mines and other workplaces.

“If the federal and state governments do not implement major reform and enforceable protections right now, we will continue to see cases of silicosis and other dust diseases rise and take more lives of Australians.” Dr Hall said.

Dr Harrex also said, “All workers need to be protected from this terrible disease, which includes appropriate dust monitoring, control measures, reporting and enforcement.

“We cannot let this moment pass by without using it to elicit major national reform that all states are committed to.

“The RACP supports the recommendations made by the Dust Diseases Taskforce, as this outlines a comprehensive approach to worker protections and support for workers.”

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