Accelerated silicosis update

News article

25 September 2023

Inter-agency work is continuing to address accelerated silicosis, a serious and preventable lung disease.

People may develop silicosis from breathing in respirable crystalline silica (RCS) dust, which can cause scarring of the lungs. RCS dust is created when materials containing silica, such as engineered stone, are cut, ground, drilled, sanded, polished or otherwise disturbed.

Accelerated silicosis is a type of silicosis which may occur after a person has been exposed to large amounts of RCS dust. It typically develops over three to 10 years but there have been cases overseas observed after less than one year of exposure.

Workers’ exposure to RCS dust and risk of accelerated silicosis is greater when working with engineered stone because of its high concentration of silica. The disease is chronic and can have a major effect on people’s lives.

Since 2019, Manatū Hauora, WorkSafe, and ACC have been working together to advise people who may have been exposed to RCS, through their current or previous work with engineered stone, to have a health check for possible accelerated silicosis. Anyone working with engineered stone is encouraged to see their GP (or other medical practitioner) for a health check and, in most instances to lodge an ACC claim for assessment.

In 2020, the three agencies worked together with a group of expert clinicians to establish the Accelerated Silicosis Assessment Pathway, designed to ensure that there is a timely, consistent, and comprehensive process to identify and assess people who are at risk of accelerated silicosis.

WorkSafe inspectors have been visiting engineered stone businesses since 2019 to ensure they maintain safe work practices to prevent workers from developing accelerated silicosis and other silica-related diseases. Inspectors also encourage workers to visit their GP to have a health check.

WorkSafe inspectors are now undertaking another round of visits and are on track to assess the 80 highest risk engineered stone businesses by the end of 2023.

Indicative data from ACC finds that 190 claims have been lodged for assessment of accelerated silicosis since 2019. Manatū Hauora is pleased to see the use of the pathway, however there is still much work to be done in this space. In 2022 Manatū Hauora commissioned a pilot study which aimed to improve access to the pathway, and the three agencies are currently reviewing the findings of the pilot to determine next steps.

It is important that engineered stone businesses maintain safe work practices and people working with engineered stone understand the steps they can take to protect themselves. For further information on managing risks in the workplace, please visit WorkSafe’s website: Silica dust in the workplace.

For further information on accelerated silicosis please visit Te Whatu Ora’s website: Accelerated silicosis.  

Back to top