The re-emergence of occupational lung diseases across Australia, such as silicosis and coal worker pneumoconiosis, has received significant focus from industry, regulators, and unions alike.

Since 2016, a series of government reviews, task forces, and parliamentary inquiries have identified gaps in hazard awareness, compliance, and regulatory frameworks relating to airborne dust. These documents also identify that preventing occupational lung disease is a complex problem to solve.

Occupational lung disease is, however, not unique to Australia. Silicosis, an irreversible lung disease caused by worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica, is an emerging work-related health priority for most developed countries worldwide. Learning and collaborating internationally will be critical in preventing, early identification, controlling, and managing this disease.

National Response

At a National level, the 2021 report from the National Dust Diseases Taskforce established a series of specific recommendations for Government consideration (read our brief overview of the report here). Subsequently, the Department of Health ordered the establishment of a National Silicosis Prevention Strategy (NSPS) & accompanying National Action Plan (NAP) to promote a consistent national response.

It is expected the proposed NSPS will be released for public comment in the coming months by the Lung Foundation Australia. As it’s intended the action plan will drive national improvements over the coming 5 years, we strongly encourage you to review the proposed plan and provide comments. GCG will continue to monitor the draft plan and keep you up to date as it progresses – just follow us on LinkedIn and keep an eye out in your inbox.

States and Territories Response

Numerous changes have also been made by State and Territory Workplace Health & Safety (WHS) regulators, both preceding and following the 2021 NDDT report.

Of particular note, Australia’s first silica dust code of practice for the construction industry (Managing respirable crystalline silica dust exposure in construction and manufacturing of construction elements, Code of Practice 2022) will commence in Queensland on 1 May 2023.

This new silica code applies to all construction work as well as the manufacturing of construction elements (e.g. cement, concrete, aggregates, bricks, blocks, tiles, and mortar). The 109-page document details enforceable standards in the control and management of respirable crystalline silica exposure in workplaces. Businesses across QLD, both in the construction and manufacturing sectors, are encouraged to review these new requirements and consider them in the continual improvement of their WHS management systems and performance.

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