Research to investigate returning to work after lung disease diagnosis

Published Friday, 07 June, 2024 at 09:32 AM

Minister for State Development and Infrastructure, Minister for Industrial Relations and Minister for Racing
The Honourable Grace Grace

7 June 2024

  • The Miles Government continues to improve the health and wellbeing of workers suffering from occupational dust lung diseases.
  • Almost $600,000 of funding from the Queensland Government has been awarded to The University of Queensland.
  • Funding will facilitate a three-year research project on best practice return to work for workers in the mining and artificial stone industries.

The Miles Government continues to lead the nation in its commitment to limiting the effects of dust lung disease in workers in the mining and artificial stone industries.

Research is underway via a Miles Government grant to inform improvements for return-to-work for workers who are diagnosed with early-stage dust lung disease.

The grant is part of a government commitment to fund up to five million dollars for medical research to improve the health and wellbeing of workers suffering from occupational dust lung diseases such as silicosis and coal workers’ pneumoconiosis.

In 2022, the first round was awarded to Queensland researchers, including interstate and international research partners.

Those projects which involve collaborations with the University of Chicago, i-Med Queensland and the University of New South Wales are progressing on earlier detection of disease, the effectiveness of screening methods and understanding of the progression of diseases including pneumoconiosis and silicosis.

This second round of funding has now been awarded and targets medical research contributing to available treatment options, rehabilitation, or return-to-work outcomes for workers with occupational dust lung diseases.

Following a tender process, a grant for almost $600,000, was awarded to The University of Queensland (UQ). This will support a three-year research project investigating returning to the workplace after a diagnosis of an early-stage occupational dust lung disease. 

The funding of the research is just one of the ways the Miles Government is working to minimise exposure to occupational dust and supporting those workers who have been diagnosed with a disease.

It complements Queensland’s nation-leading ban on engineered stone products from July 1; establishing the Mine Dust Health Support Service; and creating the Notifiable Dust Lung Disease Register.

Quotes attributable to Minister for Industrial Relations, Grace Grace:

“The Miles Government is proud of our strong record to protect the health and safety of Queensland workers, but we always want to do more.

“Funding this research is just one of the ways the government is working to protect workers from contracting an occupational dust disease and supporting those workers who have been diagnosed.

“Sadly, these diseases can be fatal. 

“There is hope through early detection – workers with early stages of a dust disease have a strong potential to return to work, and businesses need to make sure they return to a safe environment with no continued exposure.

“That’s why we committed at the election to fund research to help prevent these diseases, to pick them up earlier in affected workers, and to find more effective treatments.”

Quotes attributable to UQ Sustainable Minerals Institute Research Fellow, Nikky LaBranche:

“UQ is grateful for the funding to continue investigating ways to support people with lung disease and will be considering when a worker can safety return to workplace and what roles they may be able to facilitate.

“An important piece of this work will be talking with workers, return-to-work coordinators, occupational physicians, regulators, and others to find out what is working and not working from their perspective. 

"A total of 120 interviews are planned to get a range of inputs and insights into how the current system is operating in practice and where those involved see potential for improvement and opportunities to share things working well more widely.

“The type of industry that the workers are in can potentially play a factor in the nature of the return-to-work options.

“In a mining context, there are ways for workers to stay at the mine and continue on in more administrative positions – but there are ways of doing this well and not so well.

“For the engineered stone industry, where the businesses are much smaller, it is much harder as there are often no jobs out of the dust that people can move into.

“Another consideration is that many of these workers chose a trade because they want to be out working with their hands, not sitting at a desk or behind a computer all day.

“In addition, to the gap analysis we’ve included an alternative work analysis which will be looking to see if there are any obvious places that would be suitable from a low-dust perspective for people as they leave the industry.

“There is also a psychological component that comes with being diagnosed with a potentially life-changing disease, which is why the project includes Dr Kirsten Way from the UQ School of Psychology.”


Media contact: Kim Sweetman: 0457 600 237