Lawyers for silicosis sufferers have today welcomed reports that the Federal Government has called for state workplace regulators to immediately investigate risks of silicosis for stonemasons, saying action was needed urgently to protect workers.
Maurice Blackburn Lawyer Leah O'Keefe said news that the Federal Government will raise concerns about silicosis at the Council of Australian Government meeting tomorrow in a bid to get states to take action was an important and long overdue step.
"Already too many workers in a number of states have been impacted by the dangerous and avoidable consequences of silica exposure, including stonemasons in particular working in unsafe workplaces who have repeatedly been put at risk," Ms O'Keefe said.
"Silicosis is an entirely preventable condition which can be fatal and dramatically shortens people's lives.
"Queensland has played a leading role in putting a much needed spotlight on these issues including introducing a ban on dry cutting of engineered stone as well as taking steps to ensure greater workplace health and safety compliance and working towards a code of practice for industry – measures we would urge all states to adopt urgently.
"In too many instances a blind eye has been turned to the serious risks of illness and injury that can be caused by silica exposure – employers operating dangerous environments have not been held to account and workers have paid the price.
"This issue is now at last getting the attention it needs, and that must be matched by action starting with an immediate ban on dry cutting of engineered stone in all states as well as proper measures to ensure employers know the risks and take steps to protect their workers," she said.
Ms O'Keefe said states and the Federal Government must also act on calls from doctors and peak medical groups to implement silicosis screening nationally for stonemasons.
"Many workers who have been exposed to dangerously high levels of silica may not yet be showing symptoms and are not aware of the potential risks they face in developing disease, including those still being exposed in unsafe workplaces," Ms O'Keefe said.
"National screening is an important step in helping to try and identify disease as early as possible so those impacted can commence treatment and also limit any future exposure that could worsen their prognosis.
"We also support efforts to develop a national dust diseases register and calls from the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) for an urgent review of dust control measures and the need for comprehensive enforcement within workplaces," she said.