Lung Foundation Australia has backed stronger regulation of the artificial stone benchtop industry and reaffirms our support for a total ban on high-silica materials within two years.
The Federal Government’s National Dust Disease Taskforce, in its report released by the Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon Greg Hunt today, recommends stronger work health and safety measures along with improved health monitoring, screening and surveillance for silicosis – an incurable yet preventable lung disease caused by inhaling crystalline silica dust generated when cutting, grinding and polishing silica-containing materials.
The Taskforce says the industry is “on notice” and proposes a full ban on the importation of “some or all” engineered stone products within three years if workers are not being “effectively protected”.
While Lung Foundation Australia supports the recommendations, it maintains a ban within two years is the most appropriate and effective alternative to stop the alarming resurgence of accelerated silicosis in the nation’s artificial stone benchtop industry.
CEO Mark Brooke said Lung Foundation Australia had consistently called for the material to be phased out entirely within two years.
“We hope these regulations are immediately adopted by Federal, State and Territory governments to begin to tackle the escalating incidence of occupational lung disease” Mr Brooke said.
“Now that Governments at all levels are aware of the extent of the risk, the associated suffering and devastation to workers and families, a failure to act quickly is not acceptable.
“We now understand the tragic consequences of failing to act decisively and early in banning asbestos and our community must put the lives of workers first and foremost.
“Artificial stone benchtops are a luxury consumer product and if householder renovators knew they were endangering life and causing untold suffering, I am sure they would look to alternative and safer products.
“We need to fully address the issues associated with exposure to hazardous agents and the devastating occupational lung diseases that workers are developing as a result of this exposure.”
The National Dust Disease Taskforce was established in July 2019 to develop a national approach to the prevention, early identification, control and management of occupational dust diseases in Australia.
While the full scale and impact of silicosis in Australia remains largely unknown, incidence rates are increasing, thought to be largely due to the housing boom and associated demand for artificial stone kitchen, bathroom and laundry benchtops.
Safe Work Australia statistics show that between 2009 and 2019, there were 388 accepted workers compensation claims for silicosis, with nearly half of those in the manufacturing industry.
Mr Brooke commended the Taskforce for talking directly to those affected, including workers and families, in compiling their report, saying it meant the recommendations were based on real-world data.
Lung Foundation Australia identified employees exposed to occupational dusts, gases, fumes and vapours as a priority population at risk of developing a debilitating lung condition in the National Strategic Action Plan for Lung Conditions.
In 2020, Lung Foundation Australia was awarded a $1m Department of Health Priority Populations grant, a component of which is being used to deliver awareness and education campaigns to improve knowledge of occupational hazards and promote safe workplaces. As part of its education and support resources, Lung Foundation Australia has developed:
- A national directory of resources, support programs and services for employees, employers and people living with an occupational lung disease;
- A Healthy Lungs at Work online lung health quiz for workers exposed to hazardous agents, enabling them to identify risks in their workplace. Included are factsheets outlining the hazards that may be present and steps that can be taken to protect workers lung health;
- A Healthy Lungs at Work factsheet, available in English, Vietnamese and Simplified Chinese, for workers exposed to hazardous agents in dusty environments (such as construction sites, mines, quarries and factories). This includes information on what workers can do to protect their lung health at work.
Mr Brooke said additional funding was still needed to continue to tackle the incidence of occupational lung diseases, research treatments and support those affected by these diseases. In addition, government and industry financial support to workers, beyond workers compensation, is vital as many will need to be re-trained to work in other trades.
Lung Foundation Australia will continue to work with health professionals, researchers and industry to respond to these devastating diseases.
For media enquiries please contact:
Greg Kemp, Media and Communications Coordinator
07 3251 3669
About Lung Foundation Australia
Lung Foundation Australia is the only charity and leading peak body of its kind in Australia that funds life-changing research and delivers support services that give hope to those affected. Since 1990, we have been working to ensure lung health is a priority for all, from promoting lung health and early diagnosis, advocating for policy change and research investment, raising awareness about the symptoms and prevalence of lung disease and championing equitable access to treatment and care.