Silicosis has been making headlines in 2021. This aggressive and deadly form of lung diseases has different types namely; acute, accelerated and chronic silicosis. It is caused by exposure to respirable and inhalable silica dust that is carcinogenic and lodges in the deep parts of the lungs and destroys the normal functioning of the pulmonary system which is often fatal. Silicosis in retrospect is an overview of the year of 2021 with regards to silicosis related news, legislative changes, cases that were reported in the news, legal battles, national reports, technological advancement in monitoring and surveillance of silicosis amongst many other silicosis related news in Australia. Global Road Technology gives you a 2021, January to December overview of silicosis in retrospect. 


WorkSafe Victoria (WorkSafe), on behalf of the Victorian Government, is proposing to strengthen the regulatory regime to better protect workers from exposure to respirable crystalline silica by developing long-term crystalline silica regulations. The proposed Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Crystalline Silica) Regulations 2021 (proposed Regulations) aim to improve risk assessment and information relating to the control measures for reducing exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust. It will also maintain a ban on uncontrolled dry-cutting of engineered stone and retains the ban on dry cutting of engineered stone only, and includes a licensing system for workplaces that use engineered stone. As part of this review, Deloitte Access Economics (Deloitte) was engaged by the Victorian Government to develop a Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) to provide an independent assessment of the proposed Regulations. The RIS sets out the objectives of the proposed Regulations, explains their effect and assesses the nature and scope of the problem that the proposed Regulations seek to address. The proposed Regulations and associated Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) were released for public comment on 22 January 2021. 

The McGowan Government has made an important change to the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 that will increase protections for workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica in the engineered stone industry. As from today, with a three-month grace period, employers will be required to provide a low-dose high-resolution computed tomography (HRCT) scan, supervised by an appointed medical practitioner, instead of the previously required chest X-ray. HRCT scans are superior to chest X-rays and will assist in the early detection of silicosis. Silicosis is a serious and potentially lethal occupational lung disease caused by exposure to respirable crystalline silica in industries such as engineered stone product manufacturing, installation, stonemasonry and construction work. The amendment will assist in the early detection of silicosis and follows the McGowan Government’s recent decision to halve the workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica to further protect workers. 

  • Low-dose high-resolution CT scans required for workers in engineered stone industry
  • Now mandatory for workers whose health is at risk of exposure to respirable crystalline silica
  • WA is the first Australian State to require these more effective scans 

The AWU (Australian Workers Union) requests for help to protect the 600,000 Australian workers who are breathing in silica dust every single day. Workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica (silica dust) in mines, quarries road and tunnel construction projects, in the manufacture of cement and concrete and excavating. Our safety standards and their enforcement in Australia are so shameful that even workers in the USA and Mexico have better protection from silica dust.

The AWU is calling for a national regulation setting out minimum benchmarks to protect workers in every affected industry, with tough penalties for employers who fail to comply. We also need a compensation fund, backed by employers and industry, to help provide financial relief to workers (and their families) diagnosed with silica related disease, and who are struggling to return to work, and are adjusting to life with the devastating impact of their lung disease. The Federal Government is working on reforms right now, and we must ensure that they cover ALL workers who are exposed to this deadly dust. 

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34-year-old mother-of-two, Joanna McNeil contracts silicosis by inhaling crystalline silica. Even though she worked in administration for seven years, the silica dust she would inhale from the Boral Montrose quarry resulted in her contracting silicosis. Her lung capacity deteriorated and she ended up struggling to breathe. Her office was in an admin building but she would go home and could feel the dust on her face, on her lips and in her hair. Mrs McNeil supported a national campaign launched by the Australian Workers Union (AWU) calling for tougher regulations with minimum benchmarks to protect all workers exposed to deadly silica dust.  AWU raises concerns over the National Dust Disease Taskforce recommendations providing extra protection for stonemason but not for other workers in construction, mining, quarries and tunnels. 

Joanna McNeill was diagnosed with silicosis after coming back from maternity leave. (retrieved from referenced The Sydney Morning Herald news article)


A 38-year-old worker has been diagnosed with chronic simple silicosis and chronic bronchitis with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The worker has worked in the coal industry in New South Wales since 2016. The worker is employed by a contracting company that conducts maintenance work at coal handling and preparation plants in the Hunter Valley. The worker has previously worked at non-mining and mining workplaces in New South Wales and other states of Australia. He was exposed to airborne dust environments at the non-mining workplaces. The NSW Resources Regulator has completed an investigation into how the worker may have contracted the disease. The investigation found that: ▪ the worker had worked in the tunnel construction industry for twelve years with high-risk exposure to airborne dusts containing silica from 2004 to 2012 ▪ there is a very high likelihood that the worker was first exposed to dusts containing respirable crystalline silica (RCS) during this work period, particularly when working in the tunnel projects in Sydney and further exposure in Brisbane tunnel construction. The medical evidence and the worker’s employment history reasonably establish that the worker’s condition is connected to his work in tunnel construction. Further, there was no evidence to support a finding that the worker was exposed to hazardous levels of atmospheric contaminant at any of his coal mining workplaces. The respiratory specialist treating the worker reported that the worker’s condition is not attributable to his work in the New South Wales coal industry. The worker’s condition is expected to remain stable if he remains out of dusty environments. The worker is encouraged to maintain his scheduled screening and lung function tests with Coal Service’s – CS Health. The worker’s continued health is under the management of his general practitioner (GP) and specialist treating doctor.


Push to ban artificial stone benchtops amid rise of silicosis in tradespeople. Artificial or engineered stone benchtops have seen rise in popularity in Australian homes as cheap and attractive alternative to marble or granite. The National Dust Diseases Taskforce reported that home renovation trends coincided with rising rates of silicosis among construction workers who cut, polish and grind artificial stone. At this point in time, members of the National Dust Diseases Taskforce agreed that a product ban on engineered stone should remain an option for consideration, if strengthened regulations and enforcement activities fail to prevent new cases of silicosis in the industry, or attempts at licensing fail. 

Gold Coast stonemason Anthony White died of silicosis earlier in 2019, aged 36. (retrieved from referenced news article)


Hudson Institute of Medical Research and Monash University’s School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine (SPHPM) have received more than $1.6 million in funding – part of $6 million nationally – from the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) towards research investigating ways to prevent and treat silicosis. Hudson Institute inflammation researchers, Associate Professor Michelle Tate and Associate Professor Ashley Mansell, were awarded $645,764 from the MRFF towards silicosis research. They will collaborate with Monash Health and Monash University to collect and screen samples from patients with mild and severe silicosis, and those without the disease. The samples will be analysed for inflammatory markers and potential biomarkers to predict disease severity and progression to developing silicosis. The research will also look at repurposing existing drugs, and developing new therapies that dampen – but do not completely halt – this inflammatory response to treat the disease and improve patients’ quality of life.

Hudson Institute researchers are developing inflammasome drugs to treat and limit progression of silicosis. 


Silica dust victims visit Australian Parliament House. Joanna contracted silicosis from working in an administration role for seven year in a quarry. Kevin, worked for his company for almost 28 years and he was exposed to silica dust in the air, and frequently he could see the dust in the air. He confirmed having inappropriate PPE, safety rules and regulations. Craig worked at a Victorian quarry for 36 years until he was diagnosed with silicosis in 2019. 

The National Dust Disease Taskforce delivered their final report following a two-year investigation into the increased prevalence of silicosis in Australia. The report includes seven major recommendations presented to the Minister for Health and Aged Care. The next step for the Taskforce is to continue the implementation of final recommendations to support the control and management of dust diseases in Australia. Although this report strongly focused on the linkages between engineered stone material and silicosis, its additional aim is to start a national conversation around the need for a comprehensive program of work designed to fundamentally address the risks facing workers in industries that generate hazardous dust such as silica. 

Final Report to Minister for Health and Aged Care by the National Dust Disease Taskforce

Perth Radiological Clinic now performs very low dose CT scans which can detect the subtle changes of early silicosis at a fraction of the radiation dose of conventional CT scans (less than half of that normally received each year from naturally occurring background radiation from living in Perth). Worksafe WA introduced new legislation in 2021 which requires workers at risk of silicosis to be checked with CT scans, instead of x-rays. Perth Radiological Clinic’s work means that Western Australian workers can now be reliably tested for silicosis. 


Karl Hanson, a 42-year old Victorian stonemason was diagnosed with the incurable lung disease silicosis, after having worked with engineered stone for 13 years and he often worked in dangerously dusty conditions. At the time of the 7.30 news article, analysis of state figures revealed about 470 stonemasons accepted compensation claims across Australia, nearly double the number from less than two years ago. Mr Hanson is one of the hundreds of engineered stoneworkers from around Australia who have been diagnosed with silicosis. 

Karl Hanson, pictured with silica dust on his face (retrieved from referenced 7.30 news article)


Gold Coast apprentices say they’ve been exposed to potentially deadly silica dust while dry cutting during training in Victoria. Apprentices in Victorian TAFE courses are being taught how to dry cut sandstone that contains high levels of potential deadly silica dust. Some are not allegedly wearing masks.  


The Lung Foundation Australia has called for increased Federal investment to tackle the alarming rise of occupational lung diseases, particularly in the engineered stone benchtop industry. The foundation says funds are urgently needed for the prevention, early detection, treatment and support of Australians affected by silicosis. Lung Foundation Australia, in response to the Taskforce, calls for funding to allow: 

  • An expansion of our annual National Safe Work Month campaign from 2022 
  • The development of a Dust Disease Management Plan 
  • Expansion of Lung Foundation Australia’s support services 
  • More research into dust diseases. 
  • The foundation also wants to see tests for dust diseases included in the National Lung Cancer Screening program. 

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists (RANZCR) Annual Scientific Meeting 2021 Puts Spotlight on Silicosis.

  • Screening programs across Australia show alarmingly high incidence of silicosis in

Victoria and Queensland.

  • RANZCR supports the prevention and early detection of occupational lung disease

through highlighting Australian data on silicosis and reinforcing the guidelines for

imaging of occupational lung disease at the Annual Scientific Meeting 2021


RANZCR releases position statement on imaging of occupational lung disease. In Australia a significant incidence of silicosis in workers exposed to the dust from high silica content engineered stone has been identified. Imaging has a central role in the diagnosis and monitoring of occupational lung diseases including disease resulting from exposure to engineered stone. A common context in which this exposure occurs is in working with kitchen benchtops.

The spectrum of diseases associated with respirable crystalline silica includes:

  • Silicosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Tuberculosis
  • Scleroderma
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Chronic kidney disease

In Australian workers the spectrum of lung disease being identified includes accelerated

silicosis without calcified hilar or mediastinal lymphadenopathy, chronic silicosis complicated by progressive massive fibrosis, and lymph node enlargement. Whilst there have been no reported cases in New Zealand, similar patterns of disease are anticipated due to similar products being used across both countries. Engineered stone workers may present for chest imaging as part of screening programs or undergo imaging for unrelated reasons.

Craig Robertson and Kevin Weekes workers from Sibelco are in the news because of silicosis diagnosis. It was not long before the pair had to leave Sibelco’s Lang Lang sand operation south-east of Melbourne, which the company has since sold, because it was too dusty. Mr Weekes is already unwell, suffering shortness of breath, joint pain and declining circulation that leaves his hands and feet ice-cold. Mr Robertson, who is due for a check-up soon, says he is fatigued. He said Sibelco did not offer appropriate alternative work, leaving him on Work Cover with no employment prospects. 


A Hobart stonemasonry business in Tasmania pleaded guilty to health and safety breaches that exposed workers to the risk of developing the incurable lung disease silicosis. In court documents, WorkSafe Tasmania alleges the company exposed six workers at its Cambridge workshop and other work sites to the risk of inhaling respirable crystalline silica that would result in exposing them to death or serious injury from developing silicosis. The workers include two stonemasons, a stonemason apprentice, a labourer, an installer and a water jet operator. Their work included wet and dry grinding and cutting of stone products, including engineered stone, fabricated for kitchen benchtops. 

Victorian government introduces Australia’s first licensing regime for workers fabricating engineered stone benchtops. This regime require those working with engineered stone to demonstrate compliance with safety measures and obtain a license by November 2022, failing which, manufacturers will be unable to supply them with stone products. The National Dust Disease Taskforce recommended adopting this measure. The changes are part of the new Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Crystalline Silica) Regulations 2021, which also makes the state-wide ban on uncontrolled processing of engineered stone permanent. 

Stonemason at work carving stone

Trials of a new piece of technology which detects dangers levels of respirable crystalline silica in the air have commenced in Sydney. This game-changing technology can detect dangerous levels of respirable crystalline silica (RCS) IN REAL TIME. The Trolex Air XS Silica Monitor has been partly funded through SafeWork NSW’s Australian government, which is drawing a lot of interest on Australian TV. The detector is part of the New South Wales Dust Strategy 2020-22, which aims to protect workers from dust diseases such as silicosis and asbestosis which is caused by breathing in RCS particles, and asbestosis. The detector measures levels of silica dust in the air in “real time”, providing an alert to workers if they are being exposed to potentially dangers levels of silica dust. It is hoped that the trials will be successful and the detectors will be available commercially by the end of the year. 

Trolex AirXS world’s first real-time silica dust monitoring device in action in NSW


The release of the Workplace Safety Legislation and Other Matters Amendment Bill 2021 which was introduced in Parliament today. The proposed legislation will allow workers with eligible diseases to access lump sum payments without the need for stabilisation. It will also allow injured workers who have already received compensation for silica-related diseases to make a subsequent application for damages if they develop a further related disease or injury down the track. Further reforms in the Bill will improve access and deliver better support to families of deceased workers, with weekly pension payments for children with disability to be extended from the age of 16 to the age of 25. The Victorian State Government recognises the progressive and ongoing nature of occupational diseases such as silicosis and the need for reform. The changes will have a big impact on affected workers and their families. To date in Victoria, tragically, four workers have died from silica related illness and WorkSafe has accepted 59 claims for silica related diseases since the start of this year. 

In recent years silicosis has been synonymous with engineered stone in kitchens. But in other industries like tunnelling, thousands more workers are in danger of developing this deadly dust disease. Chanel 10’s The Project ran this story this evening on Shane and his catastrophic diagnosis of silicosis and rheumatoid arthritis as a result of his job as a road tunneller. It’s not just stonemasons who face the silicosis risk, the problem is far broader and deeper than anyone has imagined to date.

Shane Wormald a tunnel worker that was diagnosed with silicosis and rheumatoid arthritis 

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