Silicosis is a lung disease that develops from long term exposure to silica dust, a compound that is released when cutting through quartz, stone and glass. Those affected with silicosis experience ongoing coughs, chest pains, tiredness and extreme weight loss.
“Young men who turn up at the doctor’s office with persistent chest infections or ongoing breathing difficulties could be exposed to dust in the workplace and might be in the early stages of silicosis,” advises dust diseases expert Roger Singh, from Shine Lawyers, in a statement.
According to the Cancer Council, over half a million Aussies are exposed to silica dust each year, with almost 6000 of these workers developing lung cancer as a result of the exposure.
According to Singh, the disease has been so rare of recent times, that medical professionals have been having difficulty diagnosing the condition. Attributing the current resurgence to the cutting of stone bench tops in residential construction, Singh is suggesting that it needs to be on the radar of doctors, particularly when looking at the cause of health issues among tradesmen.
“It is not something many current or recently qualified doctors may have seen in their careers. It is also not always the easiest of diseases to identify, either, so it is important that those on the medical frontline ask the question about occupation,” said Singh.
“If your patient is having breathing difficulties and they have worked in one of these jobs then refer them to specialists to check for silicosis. It might help speed up the process for diagnosis and then a care plan can be put together more quickly.”
In an attempt to reduce the development of silicosis in tradies, Safe Work Australia outlines a silica health monitoring guide, suggesting monitoring of the condition among workers at least every three years.