The Federal Government recently introduced legislation that aims to capture, record and share the causes of deadly occupational respiratory diseases like silicosis.
If passed into law, the National Occupational Respiratory Disease Registry Bill 2023(link is external) will establish a national registry for reporting all occupational respiratory diseases, with the reporting of silicosis to be mandatory.
The national registry will aid in the detection of new and emerging threats to workers’ respiratory health, by monitoring trends and assisting in targeted intervention and prevention strategies.
Nearly one in four engineered stone workers who have been in the industry before 2018 have been diagnosed with silicosis or other silica dust-related diseases. This number is predicted to rise, most notably among young men.
Establishing a National Occupational Respiratory Disease Registry was a key recommendation of the National Dust Diseases Taskforce, which was set up due to concerns about an increasing number of new cases of accelerated silicosis among people working in the engineered stone benchtop sector.
As recommended by the task force, specialists in respiratory, sleep, occupational and environmental medicine will be required to notify the registry of every diagnosis of occupationally caused silicosis. They may also notify the registry of other occupational respiratory diseases, with the patient’s consent.
Information from the national registry will be disclosed to state and territory authorities with responsibility for protecting workers from respiratory diseases.
The Government has committed $2.4 million for the operation of the national registry through 2025–26.
“Silicosis can have a devastating impact on workers and their loved ones – this is an entirely preventable illness, and all too often leads to entirely preventable deaths,” said Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care Ged Kearney.
“The new national registry is another important step forward to support early detection of new cases and identify workplaces and industries that require greater scrutiny.
“We are acting now to ensure workplace safety authorities have accurate information about the number and types of cases of occupational respiratory diseases.”
ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien welcomed the establishment of a registry that will assist with the early identification and monitoring of those diagnosed with silicosis and other respiratory illnesses.
However, he said further reforms are critical. “We need a ban on engineered stone,” said O’Brien.
“More than 600,000 workers are exposed to deadly silica dust at work in industries including mining, quarrying construction, and manufacturing. This deadly and incurable disease is entirely preventable.”