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The recent rise in silicosis cases in Australia has been receiving considerable media coverage.

Silicosis is a long-term lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust, usually over many years of exposure.

The main symptoms include shortness of breath, a persistent cough and difficulty breathing. In the early stages there may be no symptoms, but as the condition worsens it can result in the sufferer being significantly disabled. Sadly, there is no cure for silicosis and it can be fatal.  

Who is most at risk?

Silica is commonly found in modern building materials such as concrete, asphalt, bricks, terracotta tiles and pavers, sandstone, granite and engineered stone products. Therefore, people most at risk of silicosis are occupations such as sand blasting, cutting, excavating, building on sandstone, demolition work, tunnelling, quarry work and mining, air-polishing concrete, foundry work, bricklaying, stone masonry, and making glass and ceramics.

Since a surge in silicosis cases in Australia in the 1940s to 1960s, particularly in construction and demolition workers, a number of safety measures were widely adopted to reduce exposure to silica dust such as wearing masks at work and wetting the dust. These measures dramatically reduced the number of cases.

However, in recent years there has been a resurgence of cases among people who make and install engineered stone products, which are commonly used as benchtops and tiles in kitchens or bathrooms. The main reason being that the silicone level of engineered stone products is considerably higher than the level of other natural products.

The recent resurgence in cases is likely due to a poor understanding of the risks involved in working with engineered stone, and a lack of adherence to safety regulations and surveillance requirements.

How to protect yourself and your staff

Firstly, it is important that employers that work with any materials containing silica adopt strict protocols to protect their staff.

It is also increasingly important to ensure you have the right cover for your business in case something happens, as insurance companies are tightening their policy inclusions to reduce their risk.

Steadfast Group reported some insurers are now:

  1. Declining risks which have a significant exposure to asbestos. However, there are still some insurers that specifically provide coverage for asbestos.
  2. Putting a total exclusion in their policies for silicosis claims.
  3. Putting an exclusion on the policy if the insured is in certain occupations.

To find out which policies are right for your business and ensure you get the best level of cover, contact our team of experienced brokers today.