The Marshall Government has approved funding for the immediate health screening of workers in the engineered stone industry in South Australia, following a rise in detections of the incurable respiratory disease ‘silicosis’ interstate, particularly in Queensland.
Treasurer Rob Lucas said, whilst there had been no confirmed silicosis cases from the engineered stone benchtop industry in SA to date, he had approved funding of $400,000 to enable the independent Mining and Quarrying Occupational Health and Safety Committee (MAQOHSC) to conduct thorough screening of workers here for silicosis.
It complements a range of initiatives already being undertaken at both a state and national level – including industry forums, compliance campaigns and worksite audits - to help support workers and employers reduce their risk and exposure.
Silicosis is an incurable lung disease caused by the inhalation of crystalline silica dust – a common component of granite and other rock used in the manufacture of stone benchtops for kitchens, laundries and bathrooms.
“There is currently considerable national attention given to the issue of silicosis, and our immediate $400,000 funding for health screening of local workers in the engineered stone industry will help ensure we support the important work already underway at both a Federal and State level,” said Treasurer Rob Lucas.
“The independent Mining and Quarrying Occupational Health and Safety Committee has invaluable expertise in the area of occupational lung diseases and already supports workers and employers in reducing the risk of exposure to silica dust.”
In addition to MAQOHSC, SafeWork SA and ReturnToWork SA are also providing expert assistance, with SafeWork SA holding a series of industry forums and developing a compliance campaign based on findings from research conducted by the University of Adelaide.
From next month, SafeWork SA will also undertake legislative compliance audits across relevant industries.
ReturnToWork SA also has a specialist team dedicated to assisting workers with a work injury claim.
At a national level, Safe Work Australia made occupational lung diseases a priority condition in the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022. The issue was also raised at a recent COAG meeting held in Adelaide in October between Federal, State and Territory Health Ministers – with the creation of a national registry now being considered.
“It’s imperative we have a coordinated, whole-of-government approach to this issue which is why I have brought together all relevant parties - SA Health, ReturnToWork SA, SafeWork SA and MAQOHSC. We have met on two occasions, with a third meeting scheduled for March.”
In recent weeks there has been a spike in silicosis detection rates interstate, particularly in Queensland, where as many as 69 of nearly 700 workers in the engineered stone industry screened were sadly diagnosed with the disease.
Silica dust is generated in workplace mechanical processes such as crushing, cutting, drilling, grinding, sawing or polishing of natural stone or man-made products that contain silica. Some dust particles are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs and can cause irreversible lung damage.
The $400,000 in health screen funding will be allocated to the independent Mining and Quarrying Occupational Health and Safety Committee (MAQOHSC) out of the Mining and Quarrying Industries Fund
There are approximately 140 employers of stonemasons in South Australia.