Industry urges authority to help end ‘preventable’ dust disease

June 12, 2022 Richard Szabo

One in seven respiratory illnesses could be prevented if mine workers are exposed to fewer hazardous substances, workplace relations experts said.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) predicts 14 per cent of lung cancer cases can be avoided if employers reduce the frequency of staff coming into contact with asbestos, silica, diesel exhaust and welding fumes.

The New South Wales Legislative Council’s 2021 review of the Dust Diseases Scheme acknowledged this finding. It also recommended reviewing and expanding financial assistance for retraining and vocational support, to investigate future fundraising opportunities for silica-related compensation claims. There is potential for a new “specific levy” on stone manufacturers too.

“[The] parliamentary committee has heard the voices of workers, unions and experts calling for better and more rigorous protections for all workers potentially exposed to respirable crystalline silica,” ACTU assistant secretary Liam O’Brien said in a public statement.

“Recommendations should be adopted immediately by all governments who have not yet introduced licensing schemes for businesses using manufactured stone, including the Federal Government and SafeWork Australia. These recommendations must be taken into account by SafeWork Australia before the release of the regulatory impact statement on the options for the control of exposures to silica dust.”

The committee supports completely banning manufactured stone if the industry makes no significant improvement in the next two years.

The Dust Diseases Scheme pays about $120 million in entitlements to an estimated 1300 workers each year. About 600,000 Australian workers are exposed to silica dust from mining, construction, quarrying, tunnelling and cement work according to the Australian Associated Press.

Click here to download the full report.

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