The recommendations from the interim advice of the National Dust Disease Taskforce are welcome, but the government’s slow response to this emerging crisis is disappointing, according the Silicosis Support Network.
The SSN is an offshoot of the long-established Asbestos Disease Support Society, and is Queensland’s only support group for sufferers of silicosis, their families and carers.
SNN General Manager Trevor Torrens described silicosis as “an epidemic”, and one that posed a grave risk to the thousands of workers in the manufacturing and the construction industries, especially those working with engineered stone (as used in kitchen benchtops, vanity units and the like).
More than 180 workers have now been diagnosed with silicosis in Queensland. Of those, 26 are for a diagnosis of Progressive Massive Fibrous, an advanced stage of the disease.
“All they did was turn up to work to earn a living and now many do not know what the future holds. This is an abject failure of government and employers to protect workers,” Mr Torrens said.
“While the recommendations are welcomed and a step in the right direction, the Government’s response has been too slow. To say the recommendations will be implemented over the course of 2020 is just not good enough.”
“The dangers of silicosis and silica dust cannot be overstated. This is a debilitating lung disease, which is often only treatable with a lung transplant”
Crucially, the interim report fails to address one of the most contentious issues facing the industry and its workers – should engineered stone, the cause of the outbreak of silicosis, be allowed into Australia?
It also fails to blanket ban the dry cutting of engineered stone at a national level.
The Federal Government should look to Queensland. While the disease should never have emerged in the first place, the Queensland Government was quick to take action by conducting workplace audits, free health screening for workers and introducing a new code of practice which includes a ban on the dry cutting of engineered stone.