Leading dust diseases law firm, Maurice Blackburn is urging the federal and state governments to take immediate action after new data from Queensland has revealed nearly one in five stonemasons has silicosis.
Maurice Blackburn Principal, Jonathan Walsh says a health screening by WorkCover Queensland of all but a handful of Queensland’s thousand-odd stonemasons exposed to engineered stone found 156 have silicosis, while a further 36 have a work-related respiratory condition.
“While these figures are deeply shocking, I have to say I’m not surprised after hearing the stories of what these workers did day to day and the appalling conditions they worked under.
“Some of our clients have spoken of the dust from dry-cutting kitchen benchtops being so thick in the air they could barely breathe,” Mr Walsh said.
“When up to 20 percent of an industry’s workforce is being seriously harmed, sometimes fatally by their work, there must be an immediate co-ordinated national response.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that what we are seeing in Queensland would be replicated in every state, but we’re in the dark because only the Queensland government has ordered such a thorough health screening of its stonemasons and public release of the data,” Mr Walsh said.
“In NSW, for example, we have no idea how many stonemasons have been diagnosed with silicosis – and according to a recent parliamentary submission, even the medical experts say they don’t know.
“This is fast becoming an industrial health crisis comparable to that associated with asbestos and a logical first step in responding to it and helping workers is to know exact numbers.
“We need every state government with the support of the federal government to check the health of every stonemason in this country, whether they’re still working or not, and to use appropriate diagnostic tools such as CT scans,” Mr Walsh said.
“There should be a national registry of silicosis patents and a centralised collection of all the data from the health checks so that policy makers can detect trends and respond quickly.
“There is no time to waste – we have the tools and resources, let’s use them to stop more young people losing their health or worse simply by turning up to work,” Mr Walsh said.