Government funds national approach for dust diseases

By Melissa Coade

April 6, 2022

Greg Hunt
Health minister Greg Hunt. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

The federal government has committed $11 million to supporting a national awareness and education campaign about dust diseases.

The money is part of the government’s response to a recommendation from the final report produced by the National Dust Disease Taskforce, and will be spent on prevention, early identification, control and management efforts for dust diseases.

One of the main findings from the taskforce was that nearly one-quarter of engineered stone workers in that industry prior to 2018 suffered from silicosis or other silica dust-related diseases.

Health minister Greg Hunt underscored the growing reports of silicosis and other dust diseases in a statement announcing the funding. He said Australian industries with a high risk of lung diseases, such as mining and construction, would be targeted in the campaign and medical specialists would receive additional training to improve diagnosis. 

“A new silicosis care management plan will guide their consultations with patients,” Hunt said, adding that a single centralised online hub would also be established for information, support and expert advice.

Other at-risk employees include those who work in quarrying and tunnelling conditions, with the number of exposed workers expected to grow on account of the engineered stone industry’s ‘very high levels of silica dust’.

Minister Hunt said a regulatory impact analysis to see what further work health and safety measures were needed was being undertaken by SafeWork Australia.

Attorney-general and industrial relations minister senator Michaelia Cash said the government was committed to working with industries across the nation to lessen the instances of dust diseases.

“Silicosis is a fibrotic lung condition caused by inhaling very fine silica dust, known as respirable crystalline silica. Silicosis is preventable and currently there is no cure,” Cash said. 

“These new measures build on work being undertaken by our government to better protect workers including the development of a national approach to silicosis prevention in Australia.”

Some of the government money will also be used to set up a new national occupational respiratory disease registry by the end of this year.

“[The registry] will capture data on the incidence of occupational respiratory diseases in Australia and guide research to better our understanding of respiratory diseases,” Hunt said. 

The health minister went on to thank taskforce members for their efforts in driving reform in this important area of public health. He also acknowledged the various state jurisdictions and Safe Work Australia had undertaken significant work to address silicosis. 

“Much of this work goes to addressing a number of the taskforce’s recommendations. 

“This includes publication of guidance on working with silica and silica-containing products, and development of a new model code of practice on managing the risks of working with respirable crystalline silica, which provides businesses with practical guidance on how to work with engineered stone safely,” Hunt said.


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