New South Wales has seen a dramatic surge in cases of silicosis, with the latest figures revealed in parliament today showing 70 new cases in the first half of the 2019-20 financial year. Comparatively, the year before saw only 40 cases over twelve months.
Between 2014 and 2018, only nine cases were reported for each FY, except for the 2016-17 FY, where six cases were reported.
Dr Nick Allsop, an executive for NSW worker’s compensation and insurance scheme, icare, said that the numbers showed a “large increase” and were likely relative to higher screening levels in manufactured stone workers.
“The good side of it is we are picking up people who previously would not have been picked up,” he said.
However, the actual numbers could be higher, as icare uses X-ray to detect the presence of silicosis symptoms.
“Silicosis is much more readily detected in a low-dose CT, a more sensitive test. That’s what you would want for your family. You want the best test,” said Royal Australian and New Zealand College Radiologists Directer, Lance Lawler.
The college has agreed that icare’s screening is a step in the right direction, but “could do better” with “far superior” CT technology. The college cited a study conducted in Queensland, where 43% of workers tested showed normal X-ray results, but subsequent CT scans revealed the disease.
Greens MP David Shoebridge described the upswing in cases as “an epidemic that is 100 per cent preventable and it is caused by dangerous workplaces”.
“If a product kills the people who work with it then it shouldn’t be available for sale especially when there are so many safe alternatives.”
To date, $100 million has been set aside by icare for workers compensation claims related to silica and additional non-asbestos related diseases.