National silicosis elimination agency needed: RACP

Public health

By Michael Woodhead

24 May 2021

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) is calling for the establishment of a lead multi-agency group to drive the elimination of accelerated silicosis caused by the artificial stone cutting industry.

In a response to consultations by the recently established National Dust Diseases Taskforce, the RACP says a group is needed within the health sector to take prime responsibility for driving the implementation of the Taskforce recommendations.

In its submission to the Taskforce, the RACP says there is also a need for it to have more robust representation from key stakeholders including respiratory specialists, rather than just public health groups.

Another key recommendation is for an intergovernmental agreement to ensure that all jurisdictions commit to mutually progress the strategies for the prevention, identification, monitoring and treatment of occupational respiratory diseases, with the national registry being a critical component.

Its latest submission adds to previous RACP recommendations made in November 2020 to the Taskforce such as a call for mandatory reporting of detected cases of dust related diseases to a national registry and mandatory workplace respiratory health monitoring by specialist occupational and environmental or respiratory medicine physicians.

The RACP said it remained deeply concerned by the current epidemic of accelerated silicosis arising in young workers as a result of the manufacture and installation of artificial stone bench tops.

“Silicosis is preventable, and no cases should be occurring in Australia or Aotearoa New Zealand,” it said.

Its latest recommendations will inform the Taskforce’s strategy report due to be published in June 2021, which the RACP said should strengthen its vision to aim for complete elimination of silicosis in Australia.

To achieve this, the strategy must have clear terms of reference, be properly funded and have a long timeframe to carry on the work of the taskforce, the RACP said..

However the college said it did not support an immediate ban on all artificial stone cutting, as called for by some other groups.

It supported a complete ban on dry cutting of any stones, but said  hazard reduction precautions for dust suppression such as wet cutting and use of PPE should be implemented and assessed for evidence of efficacy.

“If once applied appropriately, these measures do not lead to safe work conditions, then a ban on engineered stone would be necessary to ensure the health of workers in the industry is safeguarded,” it advised.

The submission was developed by the RACP’s Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (AFOEM), in collaboration with TSANZ. The Taskforce will provide a final report to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Health Council, through the Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt by Wednesday, 30 June 2021.

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