Speaker: Dr. Graeme Edwards (Queensland, Australia)
In the last few years we witnessed several outbreaks of silicosis around the globe in workers fabricating and installing artificial stone kitchen and bathroom countertops. Artificial stones are composed of high percentages of quartz in a synthetic resin. Workers producing, cutting, drilling, grinding of polishing these stones are exposed to high concentrations of respirable crystalline silica dust, leading to an increased risk of silicosis in a sector in which this was not expected. As many workers and employers were—and still are—unaware of this risk, there is generally a lack of appropriate prevention of dust exposure.
Silicosis cases in artificial stone workers have been reported Spain, Israel, Italy, United States, Italy and Belgium [Leso, 2019]. In Queensland, Australia, health monitoring of workers of from just two businesses involved in artificial stone kitchen benchtop fabrication, totaling 35 people, initially identified 12 cases, half of whom had Progressive Massive Fibrosis, a severe form of silicosis. Most were asymptomatic. The Queensland government has now put in place a screening program; Kirby  and Edwards  reported that over 799 workers had been screened, and 98 were confirmed with silicosis. Dr. Edwards has advised the number of confirmed cases is now over 150.
Dr. Edwards is actively involved in the detection of cases, and in alerting and advocating with government agencies across Australia and New Zealand to ensure a rapid collective response to the emerging epidemic.
What is happening in Queensland shows that we are dealing with a major public health problem, which is also likely to be present in Belgium. Without active screening of the work force many cases will remain unrecognized and thus underreported.
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Dr Graeme Edwards, MBBS BMedSci FAFOEM–RACP CIME MRO
Dr Edwards is a Fellow, Educational Supervisor of Trainees, and former Chair of the Faculty Policy and Advocacy Committee with the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, The Royal Australasian College of Physicians. He balances the industrial and medico-legal side of his practice with a continuing commitment to general medicine. In May 2019, he was awarded for the second time, the RACP-AFOEM President’s Award for Policy and Advocacy on behalf of patients, the Faculty and the College. He is the first Faculty member to receive the award twice; the first in 2015 for his work relating to the Health Benefits of Good Work. He represents RACP on the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) – Electro-Magnetic Energy Reference Group; and is a spokesperson for the College and Faculty on biotoxins and silicosis. Having practised in occupational, industrial and environmental medicine since 1991, Dr Edwards has worked as a medical adviser and consultant across a diverse range of industries and geographic locations having presented health risk planning and management workshops to businesses in Australia, Canada, USA, Singapore and Hong Kong.