Dozens more workers could have contracted a life-threatening lung disease, as the Queensland government announces an immediate crackdown on dry-cutting artificial stone benchtops.
Stemming from the coal miners' Black Lung inquiry, the government has also been looking at silicosis risks, and has identified stonemasons dry cutting stone bench tops as being at serious risk of the irreversible condition, which is contracted by breathing in tiny particles of silica dust that settle in the lungs.
The audit of 10 workplaces resulted in 26 people being found to be suffering from silicosis, six of whom are in the serious category.
Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace on Tuesday said 22 of those cases had come to light in the last three weeks, prompting the government to act.
"It's only been a small number of weeks since WorkCover has now had a number of claims come before it," Ms Grace said.
"We were surprised by the practises at the 10 workplaces, the lack of ventilation the lack of personal protective equipment and of course the continuing number of dry cutting and grinding that is occurring in these workplaces."
WorkCover CEO Bruce Watson admitted the number of workers affected was likely to rise as the audit now expanded to around 150 more workplaces which work with artificial stone.
"We're expecting more, we think this is probably a bit of a trend, hence the need for workplace health and safety to audit those workplaces," he said.
One of those affected was stonemason Anthony White who was diagnosed with silicosis in 2017 after working for a Gold Coast company.
Mr White said while it was too late for him, he was happy the government was taking steps to crack down on the industry.
"We need to see an end to all dry cutting practices and every state around the country needs to take action to ensure this happens," he said.
Ms Grace said she would write to her federal counterpart Kelly O'Dwyer to crack down on the practise nationally as well as set up screening for workers.
Opposition leader Deb Frecklington said the audit was started in November 2017 and questioned why the government didn't act sooner.
"If the serious nature of this (audit) was known some time ago then that should have been brought to the public's attention," she said.
Dry cutting has always been considered an unsafe practise, however it was not explicitly prohibited under workplace laws, which the government is now moving to fix.
Engineered stone is becoming more common as a cheaper substitute to marble benchtops, but is made of around 90 per cent crystalline silica, one of the major causes of silicosis.
Australian Associated Press