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Silicosis crisis requires immediate nationwide approach

Shine Lawyers dust disease expert Roger Singh has expressed his disappointment with governments right across Australia for a failure to combat the worsening silicosis crisis within the engineered stone industry.

Mr Singh has raised serious concerns regarding a lack of action following the latest figures revealing 98 workers in Queensland have been diagnosed with the deadly lung disease due to exposure to silica dust from the cutting of kitchen benchtops.

Of those 98, aged from as young as 23-years-old, 15 have been listed as terminal.1

The Queensland government announced in September 2018 they would conduct an audit of engineered stone businesses and health screens of all stonemasons. From that there have been 552 breach notices issued for unsafe workplace practises.

Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace told ABC radio in a recent interview her department had now completed the audit of all 138 stonemasonry businesses in the state.

Ms Grace hailed the Queensland government for leading the way in confronting the crisis.

“I don’t think there’s anything more we could have done,” she said. “The responsibility lies with the employers for safe work practices.”

But Mr Singh, who has 10 clients who have been diagnosed with silicosis, said his calls for a permanent failsafe solution in the form of a strict licensing regime for stonemasonry businesses had been ignored since it was proposed five months ago.

“This is an epidemic of the highest order we are seeing young men in the prime of their life being struck down with a disease from a bygone era,” he says.

“Yes Queensland has been proactive in taking these measures but these measures don’t go far enough. Young stonemasons are still being exposed to unsafe, dodgy workplaces.

“It is a nationwide problem and what is required is an immediate roll out of vigorous regulation of the industry through a stringent licensing regime to eliminate unsafe work practices.

“This issue calls for a coordinated approach from the very top at federal level.”

Mr Singh has written to federal Industrial Relations Minister Kelly O’Dwyer, as well as all states and territories, urging a co-ordinated national approach. But the response from her department – listing research, investigations, health monitoring and awareness campaign initiatives - has been “underwhelming”.

“The initiatives are vague and without substance and this falls well short of what’s required in a life-or-death situation,” said Shine Lawyers national special counsel for dust disease.

“We’re dealing with the lives of young men being cut short and immediate drastic and practical measures are required. More needs to have been done at all levels.

“In essence our proposal requires all workshops that handle and cut engineered stone should only be permitted to do so by being licensed by government agencies on an annual basis through demonstrating adherence to stringent health and safety practices.”

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Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: February 22, 2019.

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