workplace health risk professionals publish findings on occupational silicosis epidemic in australia
Workplace Health Risk Professionals Publish Findings on Occupational Silicosis Epidemic in Australia
An Australian National Dust Disease Taskforce was established to address the re-emergence of occupational lung disease, in particular silicosis.
The Taskforce spoke to occupational hygienists about their practical experiences and perspectives on respirable crystalline silica (RCS) exposure and regulatory action. A total of 105 members of the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists (AIOH) completed an anonymous questionnaire which addressed individual characteristics, experience, perceived level of employer awareness, effectiveness of current regulation, and recommendations for improvement, across three main industrial sectors.
A summary of the findings are below, or the full paper can be found here.
Occupational Hygienist experience and perception of RCS exposure data collected
The survey explored whether best practice air monitoring was undertaken to assess RCS exposure across different industry sectors. Fig. 1 shows that mining and quarrying industries were the most likely to carry out appropriate personal monitoring. However, almost half (43%) of respondents indicated that personal monitoring was being undertaken sporadically, that is with no set frequency, in both construction and/or tunnelling and in the engineered stone industry.
The paper goes on to say that ‘The use of ‘real-time’ dust monitoring devices can be used to assist employers to understand the variation in exposure over time, for example when peak exposure to respirable dust occurs. The mining and quarrying industries were most likely to use this technology, but concerningly, 66% of respondents said that engineered stone workplaces either ‘seldom’ or ‘never’ used such technology.’
Participants of the survey were also asked to outline, in their opinion, what the main barriers were to doing more to prevent silica related diseases. The outcomes were;
lack of management commitment
lack of financial resources for employers to adopt control measures
low compliance with existing regulations
In summary, it was clear that a lack of knowledge and understanding about the risks involved in working with certain materials containing silica was a significant issue and it seemed this was more apparent for the engineered stone industry. These findings combined with an inconsistent approach to enforcing compliance with regulations has resulted in an increase in the re-emergence of occupational lung disease including silicosis.
The Taskforce has recommended that more focus should be directed to measuring and controlling exposure, reporting of over exposure and increased enforcement to ensure compliance with WES.
The paper also states that a consistent national approach to RCS exposure control across all industry sectors would go a long way to help reduce the risk further.
Prevention of the Occupational Silicosis Epidemic in Australia: What Do Those Who Assess Workplace Health Risk Think Should Be Done Now?
Kate Cole, Deborah Glass, Tracey Bence, Dino Pisaniello, Peter Knott, Shelley Rowett, Sharann Johnson