Federal health meeting considers silicosis

Stuart Layt

The silicosis crisis is set to be discussed at a meeting of state and federal health ministers in Adelaide on Friday.

It's feared thousands of Australian workers in the stonecutting industry could have been affected by the deadly lung disease, which is caused by breathing in silica dust.

Cheap manufactured stone favoured by the industry to build kitchens and bathrooms can contain up to 90 per cent silica and most workplaces have up until now used dry-cutting techniques which produce a large amount of silica dust.

A crackdown on the practise in Queensland at just 10 workplaces uncovered 35 cases of the disease, 11 of which are the most serious category

There are at least 160 companies that work with manufactured stone in Queensland alone, leading to fears the full extent of the problem could involve thousands of workers across the country.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has flagged the issue to be discussed at the COAG meeting of health ministers in Adelaide on Friday.

The meeting will examine whether there is potential benefit in exploring the development of a national dust diseases register.

Safe Work Australia is understood to also be looking into the issue.

It follows calls from workers affected by the disease for a national response, not just a state based one.

Gold Coast Stonemason Mick White, 52, was diagnosed with silicosis in 2017, and urges a national response to the issue.

"It got to be across the board, otherwise you'll never fix the problem," he told AAP.

"If you can't do it in Queensland, you can just go to NSW and start dry-cutting down there. And then there's more bloke's getting killed."

Workers in their 20s have been diagnosed with silicosis in Queensland, with the onset of the disease much more rapid than similar lung diseases like black lung or mesothelioma.