QLD to research ways to improve silicosis sufferers returning to work

The Queensland Government is funding the University of Queensland’s development of methods for earlier detection and screening, treatment, and return-to-work processes for workers suffering from dust lung diseases.

The research is focused on people suffering from early stage, occupational lung diseases such as silicosis and coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, predominately in the mining and artificial stone industries.

The $600,000 grant to UQ is part of the government’s broader $5m commitment to medical research supporting workers suffering from occupational lung diseases.

The grants follow in the wake of the state’s wider ban on engineered stone products, effective July 1 2024, as well as the creation of a lung disease register.

The ban means that work with engineered stone in the manufacturing, supply, processing, and installation of benchtops, panels and slabs must cease even if contracts were entered into prior to the ban date. The government considers ongoing risks of engineered stone to workers as unacceptable and did not adopt a transition period for the ban, according to a statement.

QLD Minister for Industrial Relations Grace Grace says the focus is on improving health outcomes for workers, helping to develop earlier diagnoses and more effective treatments.

“Funding this research is just one of the ways the government is working to protect workers from contracting an occupational dust disease and supporting those workers who have been diagnosed,” Grace says.

“Sadly, these diseases can be fatal.

“There is hope through early detection – workers with early stages of a dust disease have a strong potential to return to work, and businesses need to make sure they return to a safe environment with no continued exposure.

UQ Sustainable Minerals Institute Research Fellow, Nikky LaBranche says their project will investigate when a worker can safety return to workplace and what roles they may be able to do.

LaBranche says this is significant for people in the engineered stone industry, as their ability to transition into new roles may be difficult.

“An important piece of this work will be talking with workers, return-to-work coordinators, occupational physicians, regulators, and others to find out what is working and not working from their perspective,” LaBranche says.

“The type of industry that the workers are in can potentially play a factor in the nature of the return-to-work options.

“For the engineered stone industry, where the businesses are much smaller, it is much harder as there are often no jobs out of the dust that people can move into.”

LaBaranche say a component of this research will include as alternative work analysis to see if there are any obvious places that would be suitable, from a low-dust perspective, for people as they leave the industry.

In April, the NSW Government allocated $5m in funding for a similar silicosis research and a patient support program.

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