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AWU backs new laws to combat dust diseases and silicosis

September 25, 2020

The Australian Workers’ Union is calling on the Berejiklian Government to stop dragging its heels and introduce new legislation to protect workers from the deadly disease silicosis.

New laws introduced by Labor MP Daniel Mookhey are currently before NSW Parliament waiting to be debated. The proposed laws would provide for stronger measures against silica, including the establishment of a dust diseases register.

The move comes as new data reveals that workers building the new NorthConnex and Westconnex have been exposed to deadly silica dust. SafeWork NSW found that there were 14 breaches at the two sites.

AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton said action is long overdue. “The AWU has been campaigning for tougher laws and a national approach to silicosis for years. It’s a disgrace that Mexican workers have better protections than we do in New South Wales and represents an unbelievable failure from our state’s lawmakers.

“Silicosis is a deadly disease, but we can mitigate the risk if politicians take action. The NSW government has been far to slow to respond to the explosion in cases.

“We have an opportunity to prevent hundreds of deaths but only if we act now and introduce the measures we know will save lives.”

Silicosis is a fatal, but preventable, lung disease caused by exposure to high levels of silica that affects workers in industries ranging from tunnelling, mining, some manufacturing industries and stone masonry.

Just five years ago, NSW averaged 3-4 silicosis cases per year. In the last financial year, NSW recorded 140 confirmed cases of silicosis.

The AWU says as well as a disease register in NSW, there needs to be a national approach to tacking silicosis which would protect workers like tunnellers, who work on major projects across the country.

It is also calling for a comprehensive screening program and a compensation fund to support workers and their families funded by industry.

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