The Law and Justice committee is focusing its current review of the dust diseases scheme on silicosis in the manufactured stone industry.

Silicosis is a lung disease caused by inhalation of crystalline silica dust. The committee at its hearing on 16 September heard about the dangers of working with manufactured stone, given the high concentration of silica dust in engineered stone being used for kitchen and bathroom benchtops. Polishing, cutting and sand blasting the stone can expose workers to the dust and lead to chronic or acute silicosis.

At the hearing, the committee heard about worrying increases in the diagnosis of acute or accelerated silicosis, which can quickly lead to lung disease, with some patients requiring lung transplants or losing their life. Some individuals diagnosed with the disease are in their 20’s or 30’s, who have worked in the industry since leaving school.

The committee visited icare’s testing centre in Sydney city and heard about the different types of lung tests and screening available for those who may be affected. icare also told the committee about their lung bus screening service, which travels to locations and workplaces to help screen workers for the disease.

In the wake of some doctors warning that the problem is only going to get worse in New South Wales, some stakeholders have called for an importation ban on manufactured stone products. Others are requesting that there be a ban on dry cutting of manufactured stone, as Queensland implemented recently. Wet cutting of the stone, along with use of personal protective equipment, can help to mitigate the risks with exposure, but some union groups and doctors are calling for more immediate action from the government on the issue.

The committee also held a hearing on Friday 20 September where it heard about these issues, and took evidence from key government agencies involved in the regulation and operation of the dust diseases scheme, including icare and the State Insurance Regulatory Authority.

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