Lung cancer

RACP calls for urgent action on dust diseases recommendations

The RACP has urged states and territories to adopt TSANZ recommendations to tackle the burgeoning epidemic of silicosis in the manufactured stone industry.

The College has welcomed a NSW review of its Dust Diseases Scheme and has called for all sides of politics to work together to implement its recommendations such as a Dust Diseases Register as an urgent priority.

“These recommendations are an essential step forward to achieve the eradication of silica exposure and give people the best possible standard of care,” said Dr Graeme Edwards, an occupational physician in Brisbane and Fellow of the RACP.

“All states should take note and move quickly to implement the standards. The RACP reiterates our call for an immediate prohibition of dry cutting techniques and the urgent establishment of a nation program of respiratory health assessments for all people that have worked in the industry.”

Similar concerns have been raised in the Queensland parliament, with an official audit finding that 98 stonemasons working in the artificial stone benchtop industry have contracted silicosis and more than 550 workplace breach notices have been issued.

In response the Queensland government has set up a silicosis medical reference group that includes representatives from TSANZ as well as occupational medicine, radiology and the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy.

Meanwhile, Queensland is also seeing a high rate of pneumoconiosis, with the Mine Dust Diseases Victims Group saying there have now been more than 100 cases reported by former coal miners, and many more are likely to be diagnosed.

On 1 March, miners marched on the offices of resources giant BHP demanding a 1c per tonne levy on coal to pay for a compensation fund for sick workers and their families.

The RACP said representatives from the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) and the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (AFOEM) recommend the following actions on silicosis:

  • Coordinated national action: Urgent establishment of a national occupational lung diseases registry to map cases in similar industries across NSW, as well action from state and territory Governments.
  • Proper screening: Undertake serial health screening of all workers (past and present) in the artificial stone industry.
  • Consistent, evidence-based standards: Establish a Medical Advisory Committee to ensure uniform standards of investigation, diagnosis and treatment and independent advice to government as well as the development of diagnostic and treatment guidelines.
  • Monitoring: Undertake an urgent review of the dust control measures used in the industry, including independent monitoring of dust levels.
  • Assess exposure: Undertake an independent assessment of worker exposure associated with optimal dust control (i.e wet cutting) and appropriate PPE to allow accurate risk assessment and facilitate application of appropriate controls.
  • Better regulation and compliance: Comprehensively enforce the current hazardous substances regulations related to silica dust exposure, and implement and enforce an immediate prohibition on uncontrolled dry cutting techniques.
  • Collaboration: Collaborate with the Federal and other state and territory Governments as this is a national problem.  An effective response requires the collaboration of all stakeholders, particularly the most populous state of NSW.

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