*The contents in this blog relates to legislation in New South Wales.

In June 2022, the NSW Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice issued the 2021 Review of the Dust Diseases Scheme report.

This is the fourth review of the Dust Diseases Scheme, which has again focused on silicosis, and particularly silicosis in the manufactured stone industry.

Silicosis is one of the oldest known occupational diseases.  It is a lung disease caused by breathing in particles of silica.  This mineral can be found in sand, quartz and many other types of natural rock as well as engineered stone (often used for kitchen, bathroom and laundry benchtops).

Silicosis affects workers exposed to silica dust in jobs such as construction, demolition, tunnelling, quarrying, cement and mining.  In recent years however, there has been an emerging epidemic of silicosis and other silica related diseases in the manufactured stone industry.

Silicosis causes inflammation, which over time leads to the development of scar tissue that makes difficult to breath.  It is a serious and incurable, wholly preventable disease.

The Committee made 12 recommendations for the NSW government to take timely action so that workers in NSW are protected from exposure to silica.  One of those recommendations is to reduce further the workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica to 0.02mg/m3 for non-mining industries as soon as possible.

Research and technological developments can improve ways of monitoring air quality in real-time.  This could enable employers to receive data, which could assist to address issues causing exposures above the standard level.  It could also provide SafeWork NSW officials means to monitor the levels of exposure.  The Committee recommended that the NSW government actively support research and technological developments to enable this revised standard to be effectively measured, monitored, reported and enforced at worksites (factories as well as installation sites).

The statistics found in the NSW Dust Diseases Register Report 2020-2021 showed that silicosis often affects younger workers, who are closer to the start of their career in comparison to victims of asbestos related disease, which tend to be closer to or past their retirement age.  The young workers who are diagnosed with silicosis and suffer from low level impairment often wish to retrain to work in another industry.  They need a return to work program, vocational retraining and financial support during this transition.  This illness often has not only physical health impacts upon workers, but also mental health effects with their working life often cut short.  The Committee recommended that NSW government conduct a review into an adequacy of the legal, financial, physical and mental support provided to workers diagnosed with silicosis as well as amend the definition of ‘dust disease’ in the Workers Compensation (Dust Diseases) Act 1942 to include other conditions caused by the silica exposure like pneumoconiosis, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, silica-related lung cancer, diffuse related pulmonary fibrosis, systemic sclerosis involving interstitial lung disease induced by silica, chronic obstructive lung disease, silica induced auto-immune conditions like silica scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, renal failure without silicosis, occupational asthma and reactive airways dysfunction system.

Although there is an obligation for employers to provide and pay for health monitoring for workers exposed to silica dust in NSW, the Committee was concerned that the current medical screening model is not supportive, free and accessible to all workers.

It recommended that the NSW government review the health monitoring system so that workers be provided with free, supportive and accessible medical screening, which would link them with health monitoring, treatment and financial, physical and mental support.  Simply screening could save lives!

From 1 July 2020, the dry cutting of manufactured stone has been banned in NSW.  It is now an offence to direct or allow a worker to cut, drill or polish manufactured stone without using personal protective equipment and additional controls.  The Committee was concerned that despite this change, dry cutting of manufactured stone continues, particularly on-site during installation of such products.  Consequently, the Committee recommended that if the industry does not demonstrate sufficient improvement by July 2024, it will call for a ban on manufactured stone.

The Committee also recommended a licensing scheme for businesses working with manufactured stone in NSW, which could lead to an improvement of silica control.

If you would like to read the Committee’s review and recommendations please click here.

Get in touch with us

If you, or anyone you know, suffer from silicosis or other silica induced conditions, or work in an industry where you are exposed to silica dust and would like to obtain advice about your entitlements and/or investigate a potential claim for compensation, please contact our dust diseases team on 02 8833 2500.

At Turner Freeman, we have specialist dust diseases lawyers who will assess your case and provide personalised advice regarding your legal entitlements. Our dust diseases lawyers are located across NSW including offices in Parramatta, Wollongong and Newcastle.  We also travel to see clients at hospitals and their homes.

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