«This can occur in various industries, with recent cases related to the manufacture and installation of artificial stone benchtops.»
Silicosis is an incurable disease caused by breathing in tiny bits of silica, which scars the lungs and makes it increasingly difficult to breathe.
The risk of developing silicosis has risen with the industry’s increasing use of artificial stone, which is typically 90 per cent silica – much higher than in granite or marble.
Mr Hunt said the taskforce would comprise members from the medical community, industry, researchers and government, and be chaired by an eminent medical expert.
It will identify ways to reduce the number and severity of cases, ensure access to treatment, and reduce exposure through improved prevention, awareness and capacity building.
It will also find ways to eliminate hazards through better machinery and workplace design, ensure appropriate control of potentially hazardous materials and improve regulation and compliance.
«The taskforce will report to the COAG Health Council, under the direction of the Minister for Health,» Mr Hunt said.
«The taskforce will commence in July and will provide a final report by December 31, 2020.»
Exposure to silica dust can also lead to lung cancer, kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Cancer Council Australia believes 587,000 people were exposed to silica dust in their workplaces in 2011. Of those, it estimates that 5758 will develop lung cancer.
The occupations with the greatest exposure include miners, construction workers, farmers and engineers.
An audit of Queensland’s manufacturing stone industry released this year showed 98 workers had contracted silicosis, of which 15 were terminal.
The audit also uncovered more than 550 workplace breaches related to inappropriate cleaning practices, dry cutting of engineered stone and inadequate protective equipment.
Esther Han is the state politics and health reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald