Safe Work Australia’s occupational lung disease awareness campaign Clean air. Clean Lungs. will run until December 2021 to help raise awareness about the risk of occupational lung disease.

Occupational lung diseases are conditions of the respiratory system caused by workplace exposure to hazardous chemicals and dusts.

Whether working on a construction site, in a factory or with engineered stone, the air at work can be hazardous and cause damage to health. This presents the risk to workers of developing an occupational lung disease.

Construction workers are at risk of breathing in hazardous air, including by: 

  • cutting, grinding, polishing and crushing concrete, pavers, tiles and bricks 
  • cutting drywall/plasterboard 
  • using paints, glue and varnishes 
  • welding, and 
  • cutting and sanding some types of wood.

Implementing the right control measures can eliminate or manage workers’ exposure to these hazards and protect their lungs. Some of the ways you can manage these risks are by: 

  • limiting access to areas where dusts, gases, fumes or vapours are being released 
  • using score and snap fibre cement sheeting instead of cutting concrete 
  • using local exhaust ventilation, water suppression, and on tool dust extraction, and
  • wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, including respiratory protective equipment.

Occupational lung diseases, including silicosis, are a priority condition under the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022. Building and construction workers are often exposed silica containing products such as: 

  • manufactured solid stone products such as engineered (composite) stone benchtops 
  • asphalt 
  • cement, mortar and grout 
  • concrete, concrete blocks and fibre cement products
  • brick 
  • drywall and some plasterboards, and 
  • pavers and tiles including roof tiles.

Safe Work Australia Chief Executive Officer Michelle Baxter said, “Occupational lung disease continues to be a major work health and safety concern in Australia.”

“The occupational lung diseases in Australia 2006-2019 report highlighted a substantial increase in coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, as well as silicosis from working with engineered stone.”

The national campaign seeks to educate persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs), on how to eliminate and manage the risks of their workers developing an occupational lung disease.

“Not all hazards in the workplace are visible. Dusts, gases, fumes, or vapours can be invisible to the naked eye but can cause serious lung diseases”, said Ms Baxter.

“It’s incredibly important to know what hazards exist at your workplace and how to eliminate and manage them.”

While construction workers can be exposed to hazards like dust from concrete and fumes from welding other key industries most at risk of occupational lung diseases include: 

  • Manufacturing workers can be exposed to hazards in the air that are invisible to the naked eye, such as fumes and dust. 
  • Engineered stone workers can be exposed to silica dust in all parts of their work process – from preparing and working on the slab, to cleaning up the workplace and disposing of waste. 
  • Agricultural workers can be exposed to a range of hazards in the air, such as pesticides, chemicals, and fuels.

The Clean Air. Clear Lungs. website and has a suite of resources to help identify hazards and eliminate and manage risks of occupational lung disease in the workplace.

It has case studies, information sheets and checklists for the construction industry to help identify and manage the risks of exposure to dusts, gases, fumes and vapours associated with occupational lung diseases.

For more information about SafeWork’s awareness campaign Clean Air. Clear Lungs. visit: safeworkaustralia.gov.au

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