The Australian Government will accept all five recommendations from the advice of the National Dust Disease Taskforce. Parts of Australia have seen an increase in cases of accelerated silicosis, a preventable occupational lung disease that occurs following exposure to silica dust. Silicosis is caused by inhaling very fine silica dust, with silica exposure being a well-known occupational hazard in sandblasting, tunnelling and mining. There is no known cure to the disease, with sufferers potentially needing a lung transplant. It can affect various industries, with recent cases related to the manufacture and installation of artificial stone benchtops, primarily in Queensland.
In response, the National Dust Disease Taskforce was established on 26 July 2019, chaired by the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy. The Taskforce aims to develop a national approach to the prevention, early identification, control and management of occupational dust diseases in Australia. The Taskforce has identified early steps that can be taken by government to address the issues, including the development of a targeted education and communication campaign to raise awareness about the risks of working with engineered stone, and ongoing development of a national dust disease registry with specific data requirements. The Taskforce also recommends investment in key research activities, to improve understanding of prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Developing national guidance on screening those working with engineered stone, alongside the development of a national approach to identify occupational silica dust exposure and other occupational diseases, is also recommended.
The members of the National Dust Disease Taskforce include Professor Brendan Murphy (Chair), Sophie Dwyer (Deputy Chair), Clare Amies, Michelle Baxter, Professor Fraser Brims, Dr Graeme Edwards, Dr Ryan Hoy, Professor Christine Jenkins and Dr Richard Slaughter. The recommendations require collaboration between Commonwealth, state and territory governments in order to be implemented progressively in 2020, in parallel with the Taskforce finalising its report. The Council of Australian Governments’ Health Council will receive a final report by the end of 2020. In establishing the Taskforce, the government committed $5 million — including funding for new research — and $3.5 million through the Medical Research Future Fund for silicosis research from 2020–21. The National Health and Medical Research Council will provide an additional $1 million to co-fund this research. Through consultation forums around Australia, the Taskforce sought submissions from the community and a broad range of stakeholders.
The first meeting of the Taskforce acknowledged the importance of early and effective engagement with the community and the range of stakeholders including governments, industry, unions, regulators, medical practitioners, businesses, employers, employees and co-workers. The Taskforce also conducted consultation forums around Australia in October and November 2019, with a second consultation to be undertaken in 2020 to build on the learnings of the initial consultation.
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