Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt is asking state workplace regulators to immediately investigate risks to the health of stonemasons, and stop unsafe work practices.
- Greg Hunt says he will raise the issue at a health COAG meeting in Adelaide on Friday
- Mr Hunt will also ask the meeting to consider a national dust diseases register
- Doctors believe silicosis is Australia’s worst occupational lung disease crisis since the peak of the asbestos disaster
It comes after calls from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Thoracic Society for urgent national health screening of stonemasons to check for the dust lung disease, silicosis.
The Queensland Government yesterday confirmed 35 stonemasons have the potentially fatal disease, after cutting engineered stone kitchen benchtops.
An investigation by the ABC’s 7.30 program has discovered more cases in New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT.
In the past three financial years in Victoria there have been 16 silicosis claims by stonemasons, and in NSW there were 23 total silicosis claims, some by stonemasons.
Mr Hunt issued a statement saying he and the Chief Medical Officer would raise the issue at a health COAG meeting in Adelaide tomorrow.
He said the meeting would be asked to consider whether a national dust diseases register should be developed.
The biggest crisis since asbestos
Doctors believe silicosis is Australia’s worst occupational lung disease crisis since the peak of the asbestos disaster.
Last month the Queensland Government issued an urgent warning after 22 silicosis claims were lodged with WorkCover, including for six people who were diagnosed as terminally ill.
The NSW Labor Opposition has also backed calls by medical professionals and former stonemasons for urgent action to protect workers.
Melbourne man Tahir Ozkul, 46, has had a lung transplant after developing accelerated silicosis.
For years he worked in a small factory where all he had was a paper mask, which failed to protect him from the dust created as he cut kitchen bench tops.
Engineered stone can contain up to 90 per cent silica, much higher than the content in granite or marble.
After a day at work he would be covered in dust and said he looked like a “snowman”.
Silicosis left Mr Ozkul struggling to walk more than 20 metres unassisted and needing oxygen to breathe.
“I can’t do normal activity like walk, I can’t go somewhere easily,” he told 7.30.
“The pain, the short breath is very bad, I feel very uncomfortable.”