Everyone has a right to be safe at work and looking after your lungs is no exception.
This October, to mark Safe Work Month, we’re encouraging both employers and employees to be safety champions. It’s important to take the time to understand the risks in your industry and take the proper preventative measures to protect your lung health at work.
Most of us never stop to think about our breathing, it’s just something we do. In fact, research shows that almost half of all Australians rarely or never think about their lung health. We’re all used to thinking about our heart, skin and breast health but our lungs are equally important.
While they are incredibly complex organs, the lungs can become easily damaged by inhaling tiny particles. For some people, the environment they work in may put them at an increased risk of exposure to dust, gas, fibres, pollens, moulds or fumes. The finer the particles are the easier and deeper they can be inhaled into the lungs, causing more damage.
These workplaces are common in, but not limited to, the mining, manufacturing and agricultural sectors. Whether you work as a stonemason, baker, farmer, miner, hairdresser, builder or painter, the environment you work in could impact on your lung health.
Exposure to harmful pollutants in the work environment can cause a range of serious and potentially fatal conditions known as occupational lung diseases – including mesothelioma and silicosis. These lung diseases and cancers are often preventable and, if diagnosed early, are treatable, but often there are few symptoms, or they go unnoticed.
If you work in a high-risk environment, there are some common symptoms of lung disease to look out for, however everyone may experience these differently. Symptoms may include coughing, shortness of breath, and chest pain or tightness. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, are concerned about your lung health or think you may be at risk, we encourage you to speak with your doctor.
For more information about the symptoms, risks and tips to protect yourself, click here.
Occupational Lung Disease in Australia
A recent and alarming emergence of silicosis – caused by exposure to silica dust commonly found in manufactured stone – led to renewed calls from experts and peak bodies for the Federal Government to develop a national occupational lung disease registry.
In July, the Federal Government announced the formation of a National Dust Disease Taskforce to develop a national approach to prevention, early identification, control and management of dust diseases in Australia. Lung Foundation Australia Chair Christine Jenkins is a member of the taskforce and will work with the expert line up to provide interim advice to the Commonwealth Minister for Health at the end of 2019. A $5 million funding commitment will also establish a National Dust Diseases Registry.
The Victorian Government also announced plans to develop a task force to address the emerging crisis. This puts them alongside Queensland – which developed the Queensland Health Notifiable Dust Lung Disease Register – as leaders in this area.
A Code of Practice for managing respirable silica dust exposure in the stone benchtop industry in Queensland will also come into effect on 31 October 2019.
The health and safety laws vary between states and territories across Australia, but the duty of care for employers and workers is similar. Employers are responsible for ensuring the health and safety of their workers and others at the workplace, and have a duty to control the risks associated with work. For more information about the laws in your state, click here.
Have you got a story to tell?
If you’re living with an occupational lung disease, sharing your personal experience is a compelling and inspiring way for others to learn about and cope with their diagnosis. Your story may also encourage people to identify and act on symptoms they are experiencing, which may otherwise have been ignored.