Fears of Silicosis in Construction Industry

Original Story:  Brisbane tunnel workers at risk of lung disease from silica exposure, expert tells inquiry, ABC News Queensland

A parliamentary inquiry into the re-emergence of black lung disease could be empowered to examine the risk of lung disease among Brisbane tunnel workers exposed to silica.

But the Australian Workers Union (AWU), which represented most tunnel workers, said it was unaware of any problems with silicosis and that testing regimes were in place.

A medical expert yesterday told the black lung inquiry workers who constructed Brisbane’s network of road tunnels face a risk “probably more dangerous” than coal dust from their exposure to underground silica.

Internationally renowned black lung disease expert Dr Robert Cohen told the inquiry anyone drilling through the Earth’s crust was at risk from their exposure to silica.

Inquiry committee chairwoman Jo-Ann Miller said today her heart sank when she heard Dr Cohen’s comments.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” she said.

“We will be having a meeting early next week to discuss this issue and one of the things we could do would be to expand our terms of reference to include these tunnel workers.”

Dr Cohen told the inquiry there should be industrial hygiene monitoring of exposure levels for all tunnel workers.

“Silica is actually a lung carcinogen. And it causes renal disease, it causes other auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and other things, so silica exposure is a huge problem,” Dr Cohen said.

He said anyone who had worked digging tunnels, including Brisbane’s Legacy Way, Airport Link and Clem 7 tunnels, should undergo testing for the lung disease silicosis.

While telling the inquiry black lung disease poor detection rather than eradication was more likely to explain a 30-year absence of cases in Queensland, he was also questioned on silicosis.

He expressed surprise and alarm when told tunnel workers were probably not being tested.

Construction at the Kelvin Grove end of Legacy Way.

Legacy Way tunnel workers need to undergo testing, Dr Cohen said. (ABC News: Giulio Saggin, file photo)