More than 120 Illawarra workers who may be exposed to silica dust at work have been advised on how they can prevent exposure to the deadly chemical.
During October's Safe Work Month, NSW work safety inspectors visited the region to examine the work practices of tradespeople using manufactured stone and other building products that contain silica.
Director of hazardous chemical facilities and safety management audits, Meagan McCool said her organisation was two years into a five-year hazardous chemical exposure strategy in which silica is the second highest priority chemical.
Exposure to crystalline silica dust has been in the spotlight recently, due to an 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.
Some of the workers affected have been young men in their late teens and early 20s.
Despite these rising numbers, Ms McCool said the disease was "entirely preventable" with the right workplace practices.
"As long as the right controls are followed this is entirely preventable," she said.
"That involves wetting the materials, having adequate ventilation, installing dust extraction systems on portable tools, and wearing the right protective equipment."
"There's been evidence essentially that there have been workplaces not using these quite simple strategies."
She said silicosis was unlikely to develop after one exposure, but occurred when exposure to the dust built up over time. She said the very young men presenting with the disease would have been working with almost no controls in place.
Also as part of Safe Work Month, inspectors visited Wollongong construction sites to assess the safety of scaffolding and tower cranes across the city.