To coincide with the start of National Safe Work Month, Australia’s leading lung health charity, Lung Foundation Australia, is today launching ‘Another One Fights the Dust’ – a national public health campaign which aims to drive further urgency on the threat of silicosis, and the steps tradies and Aussie workplaces must implement without delay to prevent what can be regarded as a national lung health emergency from worsening.4
Australia is experiencing a frightening rise in silicosis cases, a debilitating and often fatal occupational lung disease that is caused by breathing in silica dust particles.1,4-5 It is entirely preventable.4 According to Mark Brooke, CEO, Lung Foundation Australia, there has never been a more important time to remind Aussie tradies of the seriousness of silicosis.
“Some Aussies may be familiar with silicosis given recent publicity around the association of the disease with engineered stone products. Whilst this is an important step, we know that any tradie who works with silica-containing materials is at risk of developing the potentially deadly lung condition that is silicosis.”
“We want to appeal to Australians working in construction, mining, quarrying, tunnelling, and manufacturing, especially, of the need for vigilance when it comes to silica dust exposure, of the need for proactive individual health assessments on your individual silicosis risk. By completing Lung Foundation Australia’s Healthy Lungs at Work Quiz, tradies will have greater awareness of lung health hazards in their workplaces, like silica dust, and the proactive measures they can take to protect their lung health.”
Another One Fights the Dust seeks to enlist the support of all Aussie tradies to raise awareness of the current and impending threat of silicosis. If you work with silica-containing materials, you are at risk of silicosis.5 The campaign will feature across radio, TV, social media, and online, to drive awareness of the risks of silicosis, but importantly, what at-risk workers can do to mitigate their risk. See here for the campaign website.
Nationally representative research from Lung Foundation Australia reveals the extent of the lack of proactivity surrounding silicosis. Concerningly, an overwhelming majority of tradies (90%) have never spoken to their GP about their individual risk of silicosis3 – the clearest indication of the need for on-mass awareness campaigns including ‘Another One Fights the Dust.’ All Aussie tradies must speak to their GP about their workplace exposure so that their health can be monitored. All employers / person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must ensure compliance of the Hierarchy of Control measures.1
Without intervention, it is estimated that silica dust exposure will cause 10,000 new cases of lung cancer and 80,000 – 100,000 new cases of silicosis.2 Yet only a third of Australians working in trades (35.8%) are aware of these projected statistics,3 proving that sadly Australian workers are not adequately equipped to protect themselves from the risks.
Another key component of the Another One Fights the Dust campaign is ensuring Aussie workplaces implement and maintain the high standards necessary to protect Aussie tradies against silica dust and silicosis.
Lung Foundation Australia research found that 1 in 5 Aussie tradies do not think their workplace is doing enough to manage or prevent the risk of silicosis.3 And what’s more, 1 in 3 (32%) tradies either would not report their workplace or are not sure if they would feel comfortable reporting their workplace for failing to reduce or manage their exposure to silica dust. This is according to a Lung Foundation Australia. PureProfile Survey.
Employers must be aware that they have a legal obligation to manage the risks to workers’ health and safety, which includes exposure to hazardous agents such as silica dust.1,5 The most effective way to reduce exposure to silica dust is by following the Hierarchy of Controls, which ranks control measures from the highest level of effectiveness (Elimination) to the lowest level (PPE).1, 2 Following this hierarchy can reduce the risk of developing silicosis or other silica-related diseases.
Silicosis is an occupational lung disease caused by breathing in small particles of silica dust, which is created when cutting, drilling, grinding or polishing certain types of stone, rock, sand and clay.6 Inhaling silica dust causes inflammation which over time, leads to scarring of the lung tissue. This causes stiffening of the lungs, which can make it difficult to breathe.
There are several other diseases caused by silica dust exposure, including lung cancer and autoimmune diseases, which need greater recognition.
In most cases, people with silicosis will not experience any symptoms in the early stages.6 If the disease progresses, symptoms may slowly develop and include shortness of breath, cough, tiredness, chest pain and weight loss.6
Silica dust can range in size from very small (less than 10 micron or micrometres in diameter) to larger particles. When silica dust is less than 10 micron or micrometres, it is known as respirable. These particles are small enough to stay in the air and when breathed in, penetrate deep into the lungs. It is safest to assume that if you are working on any silica-containing material you may be exposed to the fine and invisible silica dust.
Breathing in silica dust can lead to silicosis and other diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic kidney disease and other autoimmune conditions such as scleroderma.4,7
It is estimated that almost 600,000 Australian workers are currently exposed to silica dust.1 Each and every time an individual is diagnosed with silicosis, it reflects the failure of our current work, health and safety systems to adequately protect workers. The need for urgent action is now.
Creative/strategy/PR/social media – Ogilvy
Production – Sam I Am (with photographer Billy Plummer)
Sound design – Rumble Studios
Media – Wavemaker