Occupational dusts

Some dusts in the workplace can affect our health. We are taking action to prevent and detect occupational dust diseases, like silicosis.

What occupational dusts are

Occupational dusts are created through work processes. This includes tunnelling, mining, cutting, filing, drilling, sanding or grinding. When materials are processed, fine solid particles, known as dusts, are dispersed into the air.

Common occupational dusts include:

  • silica
  • asbestos
  • coal
  • wood
  • metals.

Health impacts of occupational dusts

Breathing in occupational dusts can cause:

  • coughing
  • shortness of breath or abnormal breathing
  • chest pain
  • mucus in your airways.

Short and long-term exposure to certain dusts, fumes, vapours, gasses and micro-organisms can cause respiratory diseases such as:

  • silicosis
  • asbestosis
  • pneumoconiosis (black lung disease)
  • lung cancer.

Early detection and prevention

We are developing a National Occupational Respiratory Disease Registry to help identify, reduce and eliminate preventable occupational respiratory diseases. This registry will support early detection, intervention and prevention activities.

Silica dust

Over the past 15 years in Australia, there has been an increase in silicosis – a serious lung condition caused by inhaling very fine silica dust.

We set up the National Dust Disease Taskforce to develop a national approach to:

  • reduce incidences of silicosis and other dust diseases among workers
  • increase the quality of life for people affected and their families. 

In response to the Final Report of the National Dust Disease Taskforce, the Australian Government, along with states and territories, committed to a range of activities to help prevent, identify, control, and manage occupational dust diseases.

Work health and safety laws and regulations

Every Australian has the right to a safe workplace that is free from harmful occupational dusts.

Employers are responsible for providing a safe workplace that meets the standards set by their state or territory work health and safety (WHS) regulator. They must also ensure no one in the workplace is exposed to levels of dust that exceed the workplace exposure standard.

Every state and territory has a WHS regulator to enforce its WHS laws. WHS regulators may provide advice and information on how to comply with the WHS laws in your state or territory.  

To learn more about the WHS regulator in your state or territory, visit the Safe Work Australia website.

National guidance

We have supported the development of national guidance to help doctors identify, assess and treat people who are exposed to respirable crystalline silica dust.

Research grants

We have provided over $6 million in grant funding through the Medical Research Future Fund to support silicosis research projects.

These grants support high-quality research into evidence-based prevention and treatment options to address accelerated silicosis caused by engineered stone.

The results from these research projects are expected in mid-2024.

Silicosis grants

We provided $3.95 million in grant funding to deliver coordinated support to people with silicosis and their families. This grant includes key initiatives supported by all governments in response to the National Dust Disease Taskforce.

We are progressing a $3.03 million grant opportunity to train and educate health care professionals. This grant will better equip radiologists, physicians, and other health care professionals to screen, diagnose, and manage silicosis.

These grants will commence in 2023.

Date last updated:

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