Australian states ramp up silicosis response

Queensland and New South Wales have introduced new initiatives to reduce silicosis cases in the states.

Queensland opened a lung disease hotline for current and former mine and quarry workers in the state, which will kick off on March 2.

This give mine workers faster access to the services they need, according to Queensland’s Assistant State Development Minister Julieanne Gilbert.

Past and current mine workers have informed Gilbert that it could be a challenge to navigate public and private sector organisations to find information and services.

“The one stop shop will provide them expert advice and support on navigating the system – from pre-health screening to accessing post workers’ compensation claim support services and everything in between,” she said.

“Easy access to accurate workplace health information and free services is essential for concerned and affected workers and their families.”

Central Queensland members of parliament welcomed the initiative.

Queensland’s Member for Keppel and Assistant Education Minister Brittany Lauga said the hotline would make access to advice and services much simpler for workers and their families.

“With one call to the Mine Dust Health Support Service, callers will be able to get information about free mine worker health services, including compulsory free chest x-rays and lung function tests, and ready access to advice about workers’ compensation,” she said.

“I encourage former and current mine workers to pick up a phone and dial 1300 445 715.”

Queensland Member for Rockhampton Barry O’Rourke said mine dust lung disease impacted all aspects of a worker’s life and might cause significant personal and financial distress.

“The Palaszczuk Government has ensured simpler, faster workers comp claims and extra lump sum payments for people with black lung or silicosis,” he added.

The hotline is a collaborative engagement between the Queensland Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy (DNRME), WorkCover and the Office of Industrial Relations.

Queensland coal workers now receive free respiratory health checks when they start in the industry, when they leave and at least every five years while they are working.

A $35 million grant will be also be included to deliver reforms aimed at improving mine workers’ safety and health.

New South Wales has also announced a new plan to reduce cases of the silicosis lung disease.

The plan includes on the spot fines for those who engage in unsafe dry-cutting practices, along with a silicosis health register and new workplace standards.

It is expected to be introduced in July this year.

“To protect workers from the dangers of silica dust we need more oversight of diagnosed silicosis cases, which is why it will now be a notifiable disease, with all cases listed on a single register,” New South Wales’ Minister for Better Regulation Kevin Anderson said.

“SafeWork NSW will be notified when patients are diagnosed so they can immediately investigate the patients’ current and previous workplaces and determine the source of the unsafe work practice that led to the disease.”

The New South Wales Government previously announced the introduction of a new silica workplace exposure standard of 0.05 milligrams per cubic metre, which will be effective in the state from July.

“New South Wales takes silicosis seriously, which is why we will be protecting workers by implementing the new exposure standard on 1 July, more than two years before the nationally agreed start date,” Anderson concluded.