Volume 48 (2006) Issue 5 Pages 309-313
Asbestosis, silicosis and Coal Worker's Pneumoconiosis (CWP) represent three of the most important occupationally-related dust diseases in Australia. To gain a clear picture of pneumoconiosis trends over time, a 24-yr retrospective analysis of national mortality data was performed for the period 1979 to 2002. Over 1,000 pneumoconiosis-related fatalities occurred during this time, 56% of which were caused by asbestosis, 38% by silicosis and 6% by CWP. Between 1979 and 1981, silicosis accounted for 60% of all pneumoconiosis-related fatalities in Australia, followed by asbestosis (31%). By 2002 however, asbestosis was causing 78% of all fatalities, while silicosis accounted for only 19%. Asbestos-related mortality increased three-fold between 1979 and 2002, with a clear excess risk demonstrated among males. On the other hand, mortality rates for silicosis and CWP declined significantly during the same time period. Overall, this study suggests that pneumoconiosis, particularly asbestosis, continues to be an important occupational disease in Australia. Although progress has been made in reducing deaths due to occupational silicosis and CWP, asbestosis rates continue to rise, reflecting the long latency between dust exposure and clinical disease. Countries which continue to use asbestos products in the workplace should note the tragic legacy of this material within contemporary Australia.