Slater and Gordon, one of Australia’s largest law firms, has issued a warning to workers suffering from respiratory symptoms after returning a negative COVID test to seek further medical treatment where symptoms persist. The call for additional testing is particularly applicable for workers in at-risk industries or those previously exposed to asbestos or silica dust.
Slater and Gordon Asbestos Practice Group Leader Joanne Wade explained that there is an expected spike in asbestosis, silicosis and other related conditions when lockdowns ease. She noted that the lockdown impacts could mean delayed or less effective treatment for patients.
“We are urging people suffering from shortness of breath, a persistent cough and unexplained weight loss, who are feeling generally unwell or lethargic, to see their GP to rule out any fluid on their lungs, and to have a chest X-ray or CT scan where recommended by their GP,” Ms Wade said.
“Lockdowns Australia-wide may be delaying people struggling with their breathing to see their GP when the advice has been to stay home. Get a COVID test, and if negative, see your GP. Don’t delay. Don’t carry on without taking your health issue any further.
“People with these symptoms may fear being turned away or discouraged from seeing their GP due to their respiratory issues being similar to COVID, potentially preventing them from being diagnosed with other illnesses for some time.”
“People who are unwell are currently relying on telehealth services,” she said of the current situation for many in Australia’s Eastern states. “If you have fluid on the lungs, a doctor can’t necessarily hear that or examine the issue properly via telehealth.”
As a result, she explained that there is expected to be a significant spike in those seeking treatment for asbestos or silica dust exposure in the next few months.
“We are talking about a cohort of people who are generally older and don’t necessarily have the ability to participate in video calls and may be putting off seeking treatment until they can do so in person. These illnesses accelerate quickly, and they are deadly so we want to encourage people with symptoms to seek medical advice as soon as possible.
According to SafeWork Australia, the screening for asbestos-related diseases is the responsibility of the PCBU where workers are exposed or are concerned about asbestos exposure. It is not clear how these screening practices have been affected by ongoing lockdowns or worksite shut downs.