Accelerated silicosis is an emerging health issue overseas affecting people who work with engineered stone products, which are mainly used for kitchen bench tops.
While no cases of accelerated silicosis have been reported in New Zealand, there are an increasing number of cases being reported in Australia and prevention efforts now may help reduce the risk to New Zealand workers.
Inhaling stone dusts is known to cause a lung condition called silicosis. This can lead to breathlessness, cough, an increased chance of chest infections and in severe cases, respiratory failure.
Accelerated silicosis is linked to inhaling crystalline silica dust from newer engineered stone products. It appears sooner and may progress faster than silicosis. The disease can take between 1 and 10 years to manifest after a worker is exposed to high levels of crystalline silica dust.
The Ministry of Health is working with WorkSafe, ACC, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians Faculty of Occupational Medicine, researchers from Massey University and respiratory physicians on a coordinated response.
This includes identifying those who may be at risk and providing advice on preventing and minimising exposure. It also includes work towards an agreed clinical pathway for assessment and management.
Most people with respiratory symptoms who work with these products will not have silicosis, but may have other conditions such as asthma, smoking-related conditions, infections or allergy.
People who work in the industry and have chest symptoms should see their GP/Primary Healthcare team in the first instance.
There is minimal risk to people who follow existing safety regulations and guidance for working with stone products.
More information on what can be done to minimise the risks of silica dust is available on the WorkSafe website.
People concerned about accelerated silicosis can register their interest and receive updates as they become available by filling out this online form on the WorkSafe website.