National Dust Disease Taskforce’ advice slammed as lacking urgency

Lung cancer

By Michael Woodhead

28 Jan 2020

The Federal government has accepted all recommendations of the National Dust Disease Taskforce’s interim report, but lawyers representing stonemasons affected by accelerated silicosis have condemned the Taskforce’s advice as “pathetic and weak”.

Minister for Health Greg Hunt said the government will act on the five early steps suggested by the Taskforce to address the issues identified to date, which include:

  • Developing a targeted education and communication campaign to raise awareness of the risks of working with engineered stone.
  • Ongoing staged development of a national dust disease registry, with specific data requirements recommended by the Taskforce.
  • Targeted investment in key research activities, to improve understanding of prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
  • Developing national guidance on screening workers working with engineered stone.
  • Development of a national approach to identify occupational silica dust exposure and other future occupational diseases.

He said action and collaboration was needed by state and territory governments .

“These actions will be implemented progressively in 2020 in parallel to the Taskforce finalising its report. A final report will be delivered to the Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) Health Council by the end of 2020,” said Mr Hunt.

Lung Foundation Australia welcomed the government’s decision to implement the recommendations to deal with the growing number of silicosis cases in people working in the engineered stone industry.

“We’re pleased to see recommendations made by Lung Foundation Australia, and our partners, have been echoed by the taskforce,” said CEO Mark Brooke.

But a law firm representing workers affected by the silicosis epidemic said the Taskforce’s interim advice completely failed to recommend immediate action needed to ban unsafe practices in the artificial stone industry.

“We already know what is causing the extraordinary rise in silicosis and what needs to be done to address it, but … there is absolutely no sense of urgency in this report or in the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt’s response,” said Maurice Blackburn Principal, Jonathan Walsh.

“They’ve both just effectively kicked the can down the road with no firm timeframes sitting behind any of the advice to the Minister.”

Maurice Blackburn is calling on the Taskforce to urgently recommend:

  • The immediate complete and total banning of all forms of dry cutting of engineered stone;
  • The immediate adoption of mandatory forms of wet cutting;
  • The adoption of an exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica of 0.025 mg per cubic metre (per 8 hour shift).
  • Immediate consideration for a ban on imported manufactured stone products

“Workers are dying and the Federal Government is effectively sitting on its hands when it has an opportunity to show leadership and move quickly to ensure the health and safety of current and future stonemasons,” said Mr Walsh.

The taskforce is chaired by Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy and includes respiratory physicians Professor Fraser Brims (WA), Dr Ryan Hoy (Victoria) and Professor Christine Jenkins (NSW).

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