Occupational lung disease is entirely preventable

Occupational lung disease is entirely preventable

Until recently, diseases like pneumoconiosis (which include silicosis and coal mine lung disease) were considered a thing of the past.

International and national experts are alarmed about a spike of new silicosis cases in relatively young tradespeople across the country. According to the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand, silicosis is just one of a number of occupational lung diseases that is making a comeback.

“This resurgence in occupational lung diseases should have clinicians, tradespeople and industry on alert. These are diseases we thought had almost been eradicated, but thanks to exposure to high levels of dust and poor control measures they’re resurfacing,” said Prof Allan Glanville, President of the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand.

“To make matters worse, the disease progression is much faster than we’ve seen before, and the people affected much younger. We need a national response,” he said.

Pneumoconioses (which include silicosis and coal mine lung dust diseases) are progressive, irreversible and sometimes fatal lung diseases caused by prolonged exposure to respirable crystalline silica, quartz and coal dusts. There is no known treatment or cure, but they can be prevented. Once thought to be mainly a disease of miners, tunnellers, or road workers, artificial stone kitchen benchtops – which are made using crushed silica rock– are exposing a new sector of the workforce to the dangerous dust. Meanwhile, levels of dust exposure in traditional industries have also been rising.

“Dust diseases arise from one cause only – dust – and it is unacceptable that any cases should be occurring in Australia today,” she said.

The Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand - Australia’s peak body representing lung health professionals - is calling for a national registry of cases of occupational lung diseases, as well as effective dust control and health surveillance measures.

An occupational lung registry would allow early notification of cases and appropriate investigation to prevent other people from being affected, as well as accurate information about the prevalence of these diseases.

“For over a year now we have been calling for consistent, nationwide action to protect workers from lung diseases caused by workplace exposures. Occupational lung diseases are entirely preventable diseases that should not be occurring in modern Australia. But without mandatory reporting, we don’t even know how many people are affected, or where they are. Action is required to improve detection and prevention, but these measures will require funding, and to be effective, must be applied nationally. Eradication of work-related lung disease must be our aim,” said Professor Glanville.

Source: The Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand