Silicosis dust audit reveals major epidemic

An audit of Queensland’s manufacturing stone industry has revealed 98 workers have contracted the potentially deadly lung disease silicosis — 15 of those terminal — with more than 550 workplace breaches in what health experts are calling a major epidemic.

The youngest sufferer diagnosed so far was 23 years old and had worked in the industry for six years.

The audit was ordered by the Queensland Government in late 2018, after it emerged a handful of stonemasons had been diagnosed with the incurable disease.

Over the four-month clampdown, workshops known to fabricate engineered stone benchtops were given 552 breach notices for inappropriate workplace cleaning practices, dry-cutting of engineered stone, and inadequate protective equipment.

Ten businesses or people were also fined a total of $36,000, for failing to comply with their improvement notices.

Silicosis is an incurable and often fatal lung disease caused by breathing dust containing fragments of crystalline silica — found in manufactured stone kitchen benchtops and bathroom vanities.

Figures obtained show 98 workers had been officially confirmed with the disease in Queensland — 15 of them were at a level considered to be terminal.

Across Queensland, 799 stonemasons have been referred to have lung testing, at a cost of $2,000 each.

Brisbane physician Dr Graeme Edwards feared doctors were struggling to cope, as the numbers to be tested continued to grow.  “This is going to have a major impact on the public health system,” he said.

The Queensland Government said it was not aware of any workers who had yet died from the disease, but acknowledged many would have to receive lung transplants to survive.