The Queensland government says it is not to blame if hundreds of stonemasons die from a lung disease, and it is up to employers to look after the welfare of their workers.

At least 98 Queenslanders who work with engineered stone have developed the potentially deadly lung disease silicosis, but one doctor fears that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The ABC has obtained the results of a government audit of workshops that make engineered stone benchtops.

Workshops were issued with 552 breaches for unsafe practices, including dry cutting and inadequate protective equipment, with 10 businesses fined a total of $36,000 for not complying with improvement orders.

Fifteen of the people diagnosed with silicosis are considered terminal, and about 800 workers are undergoing testing at a cost of $1.5 million.

Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace says the state government did everything it could to prevent the crisis.

“I don’t think there is anything more that we could have done, it’s the responsibility of the employer,” she told ABC radio.

“I can’t have an inspector in the hundreds of thousands of workplaces that are around Queensland.”

Brisbane doctor Graeme Edwards is treating 22 workers and says the entirely preventable silicosis crisis will overwhelm Australia’s lung transplant system.

He said Queensland’s respiratory specialists were also struggling to deal with potentially exposed workers, and were pushing other patients with conditions such as asthma down the list so workers could be assessed.

“My youngest patient is 23 years of age. I’ve got a 24-year-old (father) with a three-year-old and a one-month-old. These people are facing a bleak future and it was completely preventable.”

Asked if they would live, he said no.

“The scarring process inside their lungs is irreversible. Historically we have discovered these types of patients only when it’s too late, with the only treatment available a lung transplant.

“We’re going to overwhelm the capacity of the lung transplant system in Australia to cope with these people. We (already) don’t have enough lungs for people currently linking up for transplants.”

Ms Grace said the cost of lung screening for at-risk workers was being funded by WorkCover Queensland.

But Dr Edwards said more resources were needed, with specialists struggling to cope with the screening workload.