Fears about hidden toll from deadly silica

Workers at risk of developing an incurable, progressive and fatal lung disease caused by silica dust need greater protections across a range of workplaces, Australian unions have warned. The warning comes after a spate of cases of the lung-scarring disease silicosis affecting young workers.

The disease can progress even after exposure has ended, and is also linked to lung cancer and kidney damage and other diseases.

Joanna McNeill, a 34-year-old mother of two, was diagnosed with silicosis last year after returning from maternity leave. She worked in an administrative role at a quarry and was exposed to dust as her office close to the main blast site. “At the moment I am feeling healthy, but I don’t know if that will be the case in one year, let alone five or 10 years and as a mum of two young daughters that terrifies me,” she said.

The Australian Workers Union (AWU) is leading a push for tougher national regulations to protect all workers exposed to deadly silica dust, with fears Australia could be hit with a “tsunami” of deaths in the coming decades. AWU national secretary Daniel Walton said preliminary reforms recommended by the country’s National Dust Disease Taskforce would only provide extra protection for stonemasons, leaving the construction industry, miners, quarry workers and tunnellers “out in the cold”.

He said the federal government must not “tinker around the edges” or compromise the health and safety of Australian workers. “It’s an outrage that a country like Mexico has stricter laws in relation to workplace silica dust exposure than Australia,” he said.

The UK exposure standard is more lax still.

Sydney Morning Herald.
ACTION: Send an e-postcard to HSE demanding it introduce a more protective UK silica standard no higher than 0.05mg/m³ and with a phased move to 0.025mg/m³. www.hazards.org/HSEstopkillingus. More on work-related dust diseases.


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