Young tradesmen exposed to dust from stone products, such as those used in kitchen and bathroom benchtops, are at risk from silicosis, health experts warn.
Silicosis is a group of lung diseases caused by breathing in silica dust. Susan Miles, a GP writing for The Conversation, says it has been known since ancient times among miners and stone cutters.
Any occupation disturbing the earth’s crust increases the risk of silicosis. That includes sand blasting, cutting, excavating, building on sandstone, demolition work, tunnelling, quarry work and mining. Air-polishing concrete, foundry work, bricklaying, stone masonry, and making glass and ceramics also increase the risk.
It was common in Australia in the 1940s to 1960s in construction and demolition workers. Awareness of the disease led to a reduction in the number of cases, with the adoption of safeguards such as wearing masks at work, and wetting the dust. The resurgence in cases is likely related to a poor understanding of the risks involved in stone working, and a failure to follow safety regulations.
An alert was issued last November, ahead of the Asian Pacific Society of Respirology (APSR) Congress 2017, when a spike of new silicosis cases across the country was noticed, mostly among younger workers.
About 6.6% of Australian workers are exposed to crystalline silica dust that can be breathed in, and 3.7% are heavily exposed.
There are three different types of silicosis. Acute silicosis can develop within weeks of heavy exposure to silica. The other two types can take 10 to 30 years to develop.
The condition cannot be cured or treated, only prevented.