Silica dust disease cases rise in NSW

A dramatic upswing in cases of deadly silica dust disease in NSW has prompted the government to launch a public education blitz about the dangers of working with manufactured stone.

The dust that comes from cutting silica stone, which is commonly used for kitchen benchtops, can cause potentially deadly lung disease.

State government figures revealed in Parliament yesterday show there were 70 new cases in the first half of this financial year, which is dramatically higher than the numbers so far reported.

Nine cases were reported in each of the financial years of 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2017-18. Six cases were detected in 2016-17.

The numbers started to surge in 2018-19 when 40 cases were detected and jumped to 70 in the first half of 2019-20 with 90 asbestos-related disease cases reported.

Dr Nick Allsop, an executive manager from the state government agency icare, said the “large increase” in silicosis cases detected this financial year was related to a dramatic increase in screening.

“The good side of it is we are picking up people who previously would not have been picked up,” he said.

The median age of people being diagnosed with the disease is between 50 to 60 and the youngest are in their early 20s.

Greens MP David Shoebridge said the rise in silicosis cases was “an epidemic that is 100 per cent preventable and caused by dangerous workplaces”. “If a product kills the people who work with it then it shouldn’t be available for sale.”

Labor MP Daniel Mookhey said NSW needs a comprehensive strategy to tackle the silicosis crisis.

NSW Minister for Better Regulation Kevin Anderson said the upswing in cases shows “people are taking dust diseases seriously”.

“NSW will halve the workplace exposure standard for silica dust and we’re helping businesses to comply by increasing rebates to $1000 so they can purchase safety equipment or install ventilation and extraction systems,” he said.

Article originally appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Posted in News

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