An investigation into whether Illawarra construction workers are being exposed to deadly silica dust - which has been labelled "worse than asbestos" - will begin this week, as part of a SafeWork NSW crackdown.
Exposure to crystalline silica dust has been in the spotlight since late last year, when am alarming number of cases of the incurable and often fatal lung disease, silicosis, started to emerge.
In March, Gold Coast stonemason Anthony White, 36, died from the disease, which historically affected coal miners, and NSW cases have reportedly increased from eight to 40 this year.
Crystalline silica, or quartz, is found in natural and manufactured stone as well as brick, tile and concrete building products, and is found in high quantities in manufactured stone kitchen benchtops and bathroom vanities.
Read more: Silicosis could become an 'epidemic'
The Cancer Council predicts one-in-100 workers with past exposure to silica without correct safety measures in place will develop the disease.
SafeWork NSW Executive Director Tony Williams said inspectors would visit the region throughout the week, as part of a project to prevent exposure across the building industry.
"The re-emergence of the relatively forgotten lung disease, silicosis, is alarming," Mr WIlliams said.
"Every business or building site using manufactured stone in the region can expect a visit from SafeWork this week.
"And if they are doing uncontrolled dry cutting, the business will receive a prohibition notice to cease dry cutting immediately and implement safer workplace practices."
Necessary controls included good ventilation, wet cutting of stone, using the right safety masks and dust capture tools, he said.
"This disease is entirely preventable with the correct safety measures in place," he said.
This includes installing dust capture systems on portable tools and providing workers with personal protective equipment including masks and respirators."
Read more: State regulators divided on silicosis
Last month, the NSW upper house passed a motion to immediately consider banning manufactured stone. Queensland and Victoria have already acted to limit its use.
Also in recent weeks, SafeWork NSW was criticised for its slow response to the growing "silicosis crisis" compared to other states, during a NSW parliamentary inquiry.
The inquiry was told NSW cases uncovered so far might be just the tip of the iceberg because of the widespread use of artificial or manufactured stone in kitchens and bathrooms, the extremely high levels of silica they contain, and regulatory and workplace failure to protect workers.
At the inquiry, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians argued "it is very likely there will be a significant number of cases in NSW", representing "a crisis in the system that protects Australian workers".
College members were aware of "tragic cases" in NSW, including a 47-year-old with five children diagnosed with terminal silicosis and a 56-year-old who required a lung transplant because of severe progressive massive fibrosis.
In a joint submission, Lung Foundation Australia and the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand said it was "unclear what the size of the problem is in NSW with silicosis" because no case study had been initiated. In Queensland nearly 900 workers in the manufactured stone industry had been screened and more than 150 had been diagnosed with accelerated silicosis.