There have been two significant developments in the silicosis space this week.

On Wednesday, Parliament tabled the National Occupational Respiratory Disease Registry Bill 2023. If passed, the legislation will establish a national register for recording all incidents of occupational dust disease. The initiative is based on the recommendation of the National Dust Disease Taskforce and is designed to help detect new and emerging threats to better protect workers.

This legislative development coincides with new information about just how prevalent silicosis is among Australian workers. A Monash University report announced this week found one in four stone benchtop industry workers has been diagnosed with silicosis. The study, which is the most comprehensive of its kind in the world, also found mandated screening tests were failing to diagnose the deadly disease – suggesting the rate of occupational respiratory diseases could be even higher in the sector.  The first Australian case of silicosis associated with artificial stone was reported in 2015 and by 2022, 579 cases had been identified in Australia.

For insurers, this means that:

  • both the latent onset nature of this condition and the inadequacy of the diagnosis tools (even with mandatory testing) means that the claims run for silicosis claims is not going to fall off in the immediate future;
  • new legislation may impact the regulatory requirements of these insureds and claims may be impacted following the recording of incidents on the national register;
  • claims costs will continue to rise given the medical testing required in these claims; and
  • insureds may see an increase in workplace health and safety prosecutions arising out of dust exposure (given the requirements to notify the national register). In May 2023, Boral Resources (Vic) Pty Ltd was found to have failed to reduce the risk of serious illness or death relating to their workers’ exposure to silica dust particles.  Boral was fined $180,000 and ordered to pay $13,886 in court fees.

If you would like to discuss these developments, please contact our specialists.