UnionsWA and the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australian have today responded to the recent release by WorkSafe WA of a report on its monitoring of workplace exposure to silica. Silica is the main component in manufactured stone benchtops, as well as being a workplace hazard in other sectors. Exposure to silica dust is a major factor in the incidence of silicosis as well as other debilitating lung conditions. The federal government has also recently released its own report, the National Dust Diseases Taskforce Report, on these dangers, but failed to act safely in decisions to prevent the risk of silicosis and other health risks that arise from exposure.
Owen Whittle, Secretary UnionsWA said:
“This WA silica report is the first time in Australia that there has been a systematic analysis of diagnosis comparing use of chest x-ray results with low dose CT scans; the results are frightening.
“Of the ninety workers tested who had been exposed to silica dust long term, nearly half were newly discovered to have health concerns that were not identified when they had only been assessed by chest x-ray.
“Shockingly, seven new cases of silicosis were discovered using low dose CT scans and which were missed by chest x-ray.
“We now know that the risks posed by exposure to silica dust are far worse than feared before.
“This important new report provides a compelling case for more urgent action by federal and state governments.
“The WA Government is congratulated for the monitoring undertaken and that has led to this report.
“It is important that breaches to health and safety laws be prosecuted, disappointingly to date we are yet to see anyone held to account for the significant harm caused by artificial stone and this report shows that that there is strong evidence to justify the prosecution of breaches.
The Australian Government recently released National Dust Diseases Taskforce Report, however, its policy response is weak and delayed.
“Much imported manufactured stone contains very, very high levels of silica and is inherently dangerous and bans on high silica products should be urgently adopted.
“Similarly exposure standards need to be lowered even further – this stuff is even more dangerous that we ever thought, and action must be taken.
Melita Markey, CEO of the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia said:
“We fully support UnionsWA’s comments.
“We have been supporting workers exposed to deadly dusts including silica since 1979. We have followed the guidelines of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists (CANZCR) regarding the use of low dose CT scans and have been using these for a number of years to monitor lung diseases, including silicosis.
“The demand for engineered stone, which in many brands has up 90% silica content, has seen a number of workers using this product developing accelerated silicosis (5-10yrs heavy exposure).
“Not only does this make breathing difficult and cause other debilitating health effects, but it has also been shown to lead to lung cancer at an early age.
“While we wait for Government and industry to act, we would encourage consumers to do what they did with demanding free-range eggs.
“Let’s save the lives of workers and refuse engineered stone in our homes.
“We also know lower but cumulative exposure to silica in can lead to the development of acute silicosis later in life from exposure in other work sectors
“Western Australian has the highest incidence in the world of malignant mesothelioma; let’s not add to this title with accelerated silicosis and silica-caused lung cancer.
“Workers concerned about their health should contact our office 1800 656 690.”