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The rise in silicosis cases needs a national response

    23 September 2018

    The rise in silicosis cases needs a national response

    The Queensland Government is leading the response to a rise in silicosis cases and calling on the Federal Government for a national response.

    Silicosis is a permanent and progressive occupational lung disease caused by the inhalation of crystalline silica which becomes trapped in the lungs. Silicosis has been linked to other conditions including cancer, kidney disease, autoimmune disease and bronchitis. It can take 10-30 years for symptoms to become prevalent, depending on the level of exposure. 

    Those who work in mining, quarrying, construction, ceramics, engineering and stonemasonry are among those who have the highest risk of exposure to crystalline silica from breathing in dust from granite, sandstone and quartz. The dust is generated from cutting, grinding, chipping, sanding, drilling and polishing of natural and manufactured stone products such as benchtops to gravestones. Artificial stone contain between 70% - 95% crystalline silica and are often the preferred product for benchtops due to their enhanced durability and low cost. 

    Poor work practices including dry-cutting, insufficient or no exhaust ventilation, dry sweeping of the dust, insufficient or no respiratory protective equipment, limited to no health surveillance and poor understanding within the industry of the risks associated with exposure to crystalline silica has led to increased cases of silicosis. 

    WorkCover Queensland reported last week that they had received 26 worker’s compensation claims for silicosis, which included 22 in the last three weeks. The Queensland Government and WorkCover Queensland have responded to the rise in silicosis cases in their state by prohibiting dry-cutting, funding immediate health screening for current and former workers who may have been exposed to silica over an extended period of time, sending specially trained inspectors to audit all engineered stone benchtop markers in the state, releasing an industry safety alert and guide for the industry and workers and are working towards developing regulations prohibiting dry cutting and a Code of Practice. 

    At Zaparas Lawyers, we welcome Queensland’s approach and call for a national response.

    If you or someone you know currently or previously worked in an occupation where they may have been exposed to crystalline silica it is recommended that they consult a general practitioner or specialist to determine they have any conditions or diseases due to the potential exposure.

    Given that the period between exposure and the onset of symptoms can be lengthy by decades, early preventative measures and detection is recommended.

    Zaparas Lawyers have a team of lawyers who specialise in these types of claims. If you think you or someone you know may be at risk in developing Silicosis or have been diagnosed with Silicosis or another occupational disease, contact us now for an obligation and cost free discussion about your potential legal entitlements.

    Kehela Vandenberg
    Associate, WorkCover