Parts of Australia have observed an emerging trend of new cases of accelerated silicosis, a preventable occupational lung disease occurring in workers as a result of exposure to silica dust. This exposure can occur in various industries. However, there have been many recent cases related to the manufacture and installation of engineered stone bench tops, in particular in Queensland.
Silicosis is caused by inhalation of very fine silica dust. Silica exposure has been a well-known occupational hazard in sandblasting, tunnelling and mining among other workplaces for many years. At present there is no known treatment that will arrest the progression of the disease. Some workers may eventually need a lung transplant.
The Australian Government has committed $5 million to support the Taskforce and related measures. These include establishing a National Dust Diseases Register, and new research to support understanding, prevention and treatment of preventable occupational dust diseases.
Establishment of the National Dust Disease Taskforce
On 26 July 2019, the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, announced the establishment of the National Dust Disease Taskforce and released its Terms of Reference.
The Taskforce will develop a national approach to the prevention, early identification, control and management of occupational dust diseases in Australia.
The members of the National Dust Disease Taskforce are:
- Professor Paul Kelly (Chair)
- Ms Sophie Dwyer (Deputy Chair)
- Ms Clare Amies
- Ms Michelle Baxter
- Professor Fraser Brims
- Dr Graeme Edwards
- Dr Ryan Hoy
- Professor Christine Jenkins
- Dr Richard Slaughter
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the delivery of the final report of the Taskforce will be extended by six months. The Taskforce will now provide a final report to the Council of Australian Governments’ Health Council, through the Commonwealth Minister for Health, by 30 June 2021.
The first meeting of the Taskforce acknowledged the importance of early and effective engagement with the community and the broad range of stakeholders including governments, industry, unions, regulators, medical practitioners, businesses, employers, employees and co‑workers.
First Phase of Consultation - 2019
The Taskforce sought written submissions and conducted consultation forums around Australia throughout October and November 2019 to seek the views and insights of the community and stakeholders. Information collected through this process informed the development of the Taskforce’s Interim Advice which was released by the Minister for Health in January 2020. (Refer below for further information).
The Department of Health is unable to publish submissions without consent. Submissions made on a confidential basis have not been published.
Second Phase of Consultation – NOW OPEN (30 September to 11 November 2020)
The Taskforce’s second phase of consultation is now open and will close on Wednesday, 11 November 2020.
The purpose of this consultation period is to seek advice and feedback from stakeholders on the Taskforce’s Interim Advice to inform the development of its Final Report.
The Interim Advice included five early recommendations that focused on awareness raising, data capture and information sharing, research priority areas, national guidance on screening and a national approach to detection and response.
The Interim Advice also provided initial findings on a range of areas which require further examination. This included opportunities to strengthen Australia’s existing regulatory arrangements across the work health and safety system, issues relating to the organisation of workplaces and organisational culture, opportunities to align skills and knowledge across the supply chain, and research and development considerations.
The Taskforce is seeking advice through an online written submissions process. A consultation paper, including a set of consultation questions has been prepared, to assist stakeholders. For further information and to access the consultation paper, please visit the Consultation Page.
National Dust Disease Taskforce Interim Advice
The Taskforce provided its Interim Advice on the prevention, early identification, control and management of occupational dust diseases in Australia, particularly accelerated silicosis, to the Commonwealth Minister for Health at the end of 2019.
- National Dust Disease Taskforce Interim Advice to Minister for Health - December 2019 - PDF 697 KB
- National Dust Disease Taskforce Interim Advice to Minister for Health - December 2019 - Word 7594 KB
Research investment into silicosis
The Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) and National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) open grant opportunity of $4.5 million research investment into silicosis opened on 2 September 2020. The grant closes on 11 November 2020.
For further information please contact the NHMRC Research Help Centre:
- Phone: 1800 500 983
- Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Web Address: Medical Research Future Fund (nhmrc.gov.au/funding/medical-research-future-fund)
National Dust Disease Taskforce Communiques
Communiques of the National Dust Disease Taskforce are published below.
12 August 2020
- National Dust Disease Taskforce Communique from the fourth meeting on 12 August 2020 (PDF 101 KB)
- National Dust Disease Taskforce Communique from the fourth meeting on 12 August 2020 (Word 152 KB)
29 November 2019
- National Dust Disease Taskforce Communique from the third meeting on 29 November 2019 (PDF 100 KB)
- National Dust Disease Taskforce Communique from the third meeting on 29 November 2019 (Word 151 KB)
12 September 2019
- National Dust Disease Taskforce Communique from the second meeting on 12 September 2019 - PDF 94 KB
- National Dust Disease Taskforce Communique from the second meeting on 12 September 2019 - Word 144 KB
1 August 2019
- National Dust Disease Taskforce Communique from the first meeting on 1 August 2019 - PDF 68 KB
- National Dust Disease Taskforce Communique from the first meeting on 1 August 2019 - Word 145 KB
- National Dust Disease Taskforce Terms of Reference - PDF 109 KB
- National Dust Disease Taskforce Terms of Reference - Word 14 KB
If you would like further information or have any questions about the Taskforce’s work, you can contact the Department of Health by:
- Email - National Dust Disease Taskforce Secretariat
- Phone – National Dust Disease Taskforce Information Line 1800 318 210
To ensure you are kept up to date about the work and progress of the Taskforce, please subscribe by emailing email@example.com. Your email address will then be added to a mailing list to receive any future updates.