New research shows 10,000 expected to contract lung cancer due to workplace silica exposure

New research shows 10,000 expected to contract lung cancer due to workplace silica exposure

Researchers from Curtin University, and unions, are calling for a ban on engineered stone Australia-wide. The calls come after new modelling from the university showed more than half a million Australian workers are currently being exposed to silica dust.

The popularity of engineered stone benchtops is considered a driving factor in the rising rates of silicosis across the nation. The study’s modelling predicts that at the current exposure rates, thousands of Australians will develop silicosis or lung cancer.

Per a study released today, which was commissioned by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the modelling showed that more than 10,000 Australians would develop lung cancer due to workplace silica exposure, and an additional 103,000 would develop silicosis.

Lead researcher Dr Renee Carey said a ban on engineered stones could prevent 100 lung cancer diagnoses and 1000 silicosis cases. The difference in cases would be shown over time, because silicosis has a latency period between 10 and 30 years.

John Curtin Distinguished Professor Lin Fritschi, a co-author of the study, believes that a complete ban on engineered stone is the best option but agrees that there are measures that can be put in place to reduce the health impacts on workers.

“The damage from other types of silica-containing materials could be reduced by using better dust suppression techniques on mine and construction sites, and using wet-cutting during concrete cutting and grinding,” he said.

In June of 2021, a report to the federal Department of Health expressed that urgent and “immediate action” was needed to better protect workers from what was described as an “unacceptable re-emergence of silicosis in Australia”.

“The significant rise in cases of accelerated silicosis has been associated with the increased importation and use of artificial or engineered stone in Australia,” the report stated.

Safe Work Australia is calling for public submissions on managing silica dust in the workplace and the period of consultation is open until August 15.

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