Media Release

11 October 2018

A NSW Labor Government will tackle the rise in the deadly occupational lung disease, Silicosis – which affects “tradies” in the manufactured stone cutting sector and has been labelled the “new asbestos”.

NSW Labor has a six-point plan which includes:

  •  Raising Silicosis formally at the national level of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to ensure action by State, Territory and Federal levels;
  •  Supporting a feasibility study into a national register of occupational lung diseases including Silicosis to track the health of workers in the stone cutting sector;
  •  Stronger regulation of the stone cutting industry in NSW – including investigating a possible legislated ban on dry cutting of the manufactured stone;
  •  Making Silicosis a notifiable disease by medical professionals to NSW Health;
  •  A review of work safety and personal injury laws to ensure workers and their families are adequately protected; and
  •  An education campaign to inform business owners and workers within the kitchen renovation and stone cutting industries of Silicosis risk factors – especially workers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds – that are over-represented in the sector.

A national register would allow authorities to get an accurate picture of the number of people affected by Silicosis and track their health status.

Similar national occupational disease registries have already been established in European nations such as the United Kingdom, Finland, Austria, Belgium and the Czech Republic.

This was announced by Shadow Industrial Relations Minister Adam Searle and Shadow Health Minister Walt Secord.

Silicosis is a progressive, irreversible lung disease caused by exposure to silica dust – by inhaling – which can take anywhere from 10 to 30 years to develop. Symptoms can include shortness of breath, cough, fever, cyanosis (bluish skin) and frequent chest infections, eventually leading to death.

Silicosis has a shorter latency period than asbestosis, another dust disease, which can take decades to surface. There is no treatment for Silicosis other than a lung transplant.

Health experts have warned of an alarming spike in cases of Silicosis among Aussie tradies, believed to be linked to cutting engineered or artificial stone products used to make kitchen benchtops – found in most Australian households. It is considered at low risk until it is cut.

Silicosis has no known cure and kills tens of thousands of people around the world each year. Cutting in wet circumstances reduces the risk, but does not remove the risk.

Mr Searle and Mr Secord said if elected, NSW Labor would take a leading national role on Silicosis.

The Queensland Government has issued safety alerts for stone benchtop workers and has prohibited the dry cutting of engineered stone.

Quotes attributable to Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations Adam Searle:

“Unfortunately, few employers know about the risks Silicosis places to their workers.

“Only Labor will take the action needed to keep workers safe from occupational diseases like Silicosis. That is why we will take a national approach and lead the establishment of a national register.”

Quotes attributable to Shadow Minister for Health Walt Secord:

“The challenge posed by Silicosis and other industrial lung diseases is too big for just one State – we need a national approach.

“Sadly, young workers are becoming gravely ill due to a completely preventable disease.

“It is puzzling that the Berejiklian Government is reluctant to act, but Labor will.”

1810 - Silicosis