Australia

National silicosis response considered

Sufferers of the deadly lung disease silicosis are urging the federal government to do more to deal with the issue, which could affect thousands.

It's feared thousands of Australian workers have contracted the deadly lung disease silicosis, as the federal government moves to respond to the issue.

The disease is contracted by breathing in silica dust, with a crisis currently unfolding in the stonecutting industry, which uses cheap manufactured stone for household kitchens and bathrooms.

The product can be up to 90 per cent silica, and most workplaces have up til now use dry-cutting techniques which produce a large amount of silica dust.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has indicated he will bring up the issue at a meeting of state and federal health ministers in Adelaide on Friday.

"(The meeting will) examine whether there is potential benefit in exploring the development of a national dust diseases register," a spokesperson for Mr Hunt said in a statement.

Safe Work Australia is understood to also be looking into the issue.

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten backed calls for a national response to the issue on Thursday, saying he had seen firsthand the effect of exposure to industrial diseases.

Leah O'Keefe from Maurice Blackburn Lawyers said the issue was, at last, getting the attention it needs.

"That must be matched by action starting with an immediate ban on dry cutting of engineered stone in all states as well as proper measures to ensure employers know the risks and take steps to protect their workers," she said.

Queensland has already cracked down on the practice of dry cutting, with Workcover Queensland currently managing 35 cases of the disease, 11 of which are the most serious category, following an audit of just 10 workplaces.

There are at least 160 companies that work with manufactured stone in Queensland alone, leading to fears the full extent of the problem could involve thousands of workers across the country.

Queensland Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace says they are working to audit the remaining workplaces, but admitted the problem needs a national response.

"We're very concerned about the number of claims we could have, not only in Queensland but from what we're hearing Australia-wide," Ms Grace said.

Gold Coast Stonemason Mick White, 52, was diagnosed with silicosis in 2017, and urges a national response to the issue.

"It got to be across the board, otherwise you'll never fix the problem," he told AAP.

"If you can't do it in Queensland, you can just go to NSW and start dry-cutting down there. And then there's more bloke's getting killed."

Roger Singh from Shine Lawyers, who represents some of the affected workers, says workers as young as 28 have been affected

"If there was asbestos in these work environments, you can bet these workshops would be shut down immediately," Mr Singh said.

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