Lawyers for silicosis sufferers have today welcomed reports the Victorian Government will push for the urgent establishment of a national silicosis register to keep workers safe.
Maurice Blackburn lawyer Leah O’Keefe also echoed the Victorian call for a sweeping review of current safety standards to better protect worker safety.
“Already too many Australian workers 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.
“Action is needed now to stem this trend and we would urge all states and the Federal Government to support the establishment of a national silicosis register to track the spread of this deadly disease.”
In addition to a national register, Ms O’Keefe urged all states to follow the lead of Queensland and enforce a ban on dry cutting of engineered stone.
"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.
“In too many instances states and regulators have turned a blind eye 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,” she said.
“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 workers.”
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 for an urgent review of dust control measures and the need for comprehensive enforcement within workplaces,” she said.