Healthy lungs at work for all Western Australians - Institute for Respiratory Health

Healthy lungs at work for all Western Australians

Monday, October 02, 2023 | News

This National Safe Work Month, the Institute for Respiratory Health is calling on all Western Australian (WA) employers to ensure they provide a safe workplace for their workers. Workers can be exposed to all sorts of dangers at work that they aren’t aware of including silica dust, chemicals, fumes and biological agents.

“These hazards can damage your lungs,” Professor Yuben Moodley from the Institute for Respiratory Health said.

“Occupational lung diseases are a silent but all too real threat faced by workers in a range of industries. They can affect anyone, regardless of their profession and may take years to manifest symptoms, making early detection and prevention essential.”

The Institute said workers in hospitality or service industries can be exposed to second-hand smoke.  And metalworkers and welders can breathe in toxic fumes that can lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

“One of the deadliest threats is from exposure to silica dust,” Professor Moodley said.

“Silicosis is an entirely preventable condition that affects up to a quarter of stonemasons working with engineered stone, which can contain up to 95 per cent crystalline silica.”

Australian doctors have reported a large increase in the number of silicosis cases in the past decade, including cases among tradies in their early 20s and deaths among those in their 40s.

Statistics show some workers don’t know they are being exposed to silica dust in their jobs, with many who get diagnosed having never heard of the condition until their diagnosis.

“The best thing we can do is ban manufactured stone worktops altogether and we’re hoping the Government will make a decision on this soon,” Professor Moodley said.

“In the meantime, employers can prevent dangers like this at work through health and safety training. They can provide the right protective equipment and clothing and ensure regular lung function tests. It’s also important we screen anyone who has worked with artificial stone for silicosis as soon as possible.

“And for those patients who have been diagnosed, we need research to find treatments to help them lead a better quality of life.”

The Institute for Respiratory Health calls upon all WA workplaces to prioritise lung health during Safe Work Month. By acknowledging the risks and implementing proactive measures, we can create safer, healthier working environments for everyone.

Media contact: Andrea Jones

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