Queensland mines and businesses whose workers have suffered the ill effects of silica dust could be subjected to large-scale legal action.

The state’s resources industry has come under fire for repeated breaches of lawful silica dust levels, with reportedly more than 70 silica dust breaches recorded in Queensland mines in the past 15 months.

The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) claims the number of cases of deadly lung disease silicosis among mine workers is rising, arguing silica dust can be more dangerous than coal dust, which has caused dozens of cases of black lung disease in recent years.

Cases of workers presenting with autoimmune diseases such as scleroderma and rheumatoid arthritis as a result of silica dust are also increasing, according to Shine Lawyers.

“We are now seeing silica dust causing havoc beyond lung-related conditions,” Shine’s national special counsel Roger Singh said.

“We have miners who not only have their lungs packing up, but they have aching joints and pain and suffering with their internal organs being affected.

“There are alarm bells ringing.”

Mr Singh has called for a parliamentary inquiry into the issue and is concerned workers from stonemasonry and sandblasting industries could also be affected by silica dust.

A group action is being explored, he said, calling for businesses to face paying “exemplary damages”.

“There can be no excuse in the industrial world not doing more to stamp this thing out. These are diseases from decades ago which should not be seen in modern society,” he said.

“The cases of silicosis, scleroderma and rheumatoid arthritis I’ve come across are just the tip of the iceberg.

“We don’t want another asbestos legacy where the industry and manufacturers turned a blind eye and after a latency period of decades, these diseases began to emerge, but then it was too little, too late.”

In response to reports of silica dust breaches, the Queensland Resources Council last week said it had accepted recommendations of a state government-commissioned report by Monash University to improve respiratory health and dust monitoring.

Workers who contracted silicosis also have access to a first-class compensation scheme, the QRC said.

The council said coal mines were required to regularly monitor dust levels and ensure they stay within prescribed limits.

By Warren Barnsley