Focus grants

Grants that are aligned to specific target areas, that may change annually.

Focus: Occupational exposure to silica

  • Project: SilicosisCare - Optimising future healthcare

    Chief Investigator

    Anne Holland


    Monash University

    Awarded funding


    People living with silicosis face many uncertainties and stressors. Prognosis and future healthcare needs are often unclear, and changes to work roles may impact on psychosocial and financial wellbeing. Many people with silicosis were born outside Australia and may have limited access to health information due to language barriers. Little is known about the lived experience of younger people with silicosis, or their preferences for long-term supportive care. 

    The aims of this study are to (1) understand the experiences and care needs of younger people with silicosis; and (2) identify key components of a long-term supportive care model.

    We will recruit people with silicosis aged under 65 years old who have worked with manufactured stone. We will include people with varying disease duration, geographic location (metropolitan and regional) and cultural background. In Stage One, individual interviews will be conducted by telephone or videoconference, to gain an in-depth understanding of experiences and needs.

    Questions will explore lived experience of silicosis, including physical and psychosocial wellbeing, health literacy and information needs, and preferences for long-term support. Analysis will be conducted using the principles of grounded theory. In Stage Two, online focus groups will be used to confirm or refine Stage One results and identify key components of a long-term supportive care model.

    This project brings together researchers with expertise in dust diseases, respiratory medicine, qualitative research, supportive care and consumer engagement. A key outcome will be a proposed model of supportive care that reflects the experiences, needs and priorities of young people with silicosis.

  • Project: Improving work practices towards reducing acute silicosis in Australia

    Chief Investigator

    Dr Anna Yeung


    Woolcock Institute

    Awarded funding

    $55,200 (3 years)

    Silicosis is an incurable lung disease caused by the inhalation of crystalline silica dusts. It affects multiple industries where workers quarry, process and use mineral materials including mining, construction, ceramics, glass manufacturing, and even in textiles.

    However, the rapid rise in silicosis cases over the past decade has been attributed to working with artificial stone, a composite material made of more than 90 per cent silica, pigments and polymer resins. Alarmingly we are observing more accelerated and acute forms of silicosis with shortened onset times for fibrosis after exposure to high concentrations of silica dusts. As there are currently no effective treatments for silicosis, our focus is on preventative measures to reduce hazardous exposures to silica dust when working with artificial stone.

    This project proposes to monitor and collect environmental data from factories to understand the exposure levels faced by workers during artificial stone processing. We will also evaluate the effectiveness of a number of relatively inexpensive N95/P2 grade face masks in protecting against respirable silica dusts and determine best practices for working with artificial stone when engineering controls are not accessible.

    Finally, we recognise that artificial stone work may be carried out by untrained personnel from non-English speaking backgrounds who may not know about silicosis. As such we will produce a multi-language pamphlet based on the results of the study to warn and educate workers on the dangers of working with artificial stone.

  • Project: Ultra low-dose CT in silicosis screening

    Chief Investigator

    Professor Fraser Brims


    University of Western Australia

    Awarded funding

    $103,551 (1.5 years)

    The recent introduction of artificial stone into Australia has resulted in workers being exposed to extremely dangerous levels of silica dust. This has caused more than 330 cases of silicosis in Australia so far.

    Screening for the early signs of silicosis is vital, however, the best way to identify silicosis is not known. In Australia we are using chest X-rays (CXR) to try to identify silicosis. The CXR has been used for over 100 years and now doctors more commonly use a CT scan to look for chest disease because they are far more accurate. For instance, in Queensland, doctors think that up to four in 10 CXRs have missed early silicosis.

    Therefore, CXR may not be the best way to find early silicosis. But, standard CT scans use a lot more radiation than a CXR, and doctors are worried they may cause harm by using CT scans too much.

    In Western Australia, we have access to the latest technology of CT scanner that gives almost the same dose of radiation as a CXR, and yet we get a much better picture of what is happening in the lungs. We believe that this ‘low dose CT’ scan will be better than a CXR at finding silicosis and at a much safer radiation level.

    Our project aims to compare chest x-rays with low dose CT scans to find which is more accurate for diagnosing early silicosis. The results may change the way we look for silicosis in Australia and other countries.

  • Project: Improving exposure science and dust control for engineered stone workers

    Chief Investigator

    Dr Sharyn Gaskin


    University of Adelaide

    Awarded funding

    $224,872 (2 years)

    The introduction of engineered stone products has led to incidence of silicosis following shorter exposure periods and shorter latency periods than with natural stone. This project will aim to compare the physical, chemical and toxicological properties of the emissions of engineered stone with those of natural stone, and to identify dust control measures best able to eliminate the risk of silicosis from these products.

    Dust samples from machining of engineered stone and natural stone will be examined for differences in particle size, electrostatic charge, elemental composition, and VOC emissions. Emissions from cutting, polishing and grinding will be measured using a range of wetting techniques and dust control technologies to identify best practice control measures.

    Finally, using a hydroxyl free radical assay, the toxicological properties of freshly-generated emissions of engineered stone will be compared with those of natural stone, and with aged engineered stone samples to determine whether toxicity decays with time.

    A report with recommendations for stakeholders will provide evidence on dust toxicological and morphological profiles and also advice on risks and control measures. Ultimately, the project should assist in reducing respiratory health risks for workers, and add to scientific knowledge.

  • Project: APC of Australia's silicosis epidemic using national hospital and mortality data

    Chief Investigator

    Dr Matthew Soeberg


    Asbestos Diseases Research Institute (ADRI)

    Awarded funding

    $57,000 (1.5 years)

    Understanding the total impact of dust diseases in a community requires information about when a person was diagnosed or treated with the disease and when they died. Unlike diseases such as malignant mesothelioma, silicosis does not have a historic disease register to measure incidence and mortality. An alternative and novel approach is needed.

    In this project, we will collect national data about the number of hospitalisations and deaths due to silicosis. For mortality data, we can track this data back to 1997. We will also request the data for NSW only. Importantly, we will collect these data held by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare where silicosis is either the primary reason for hospitalisation or death or an associated reason for hospitalisation or death. For example, it is possible to identify people where silicosis was an associated cause of death but the main reason could have been another (respiratory or other) disease.

    This approach allows a much more comprehensive estimate of the silicosis burden in the community. We will then sort and analyse these data by age group (A), the period when the silicosis was treated or diagnosed (P), and the cohort in which someone with silicosis was born in (C). This age-period-cohort (APC) approach will allow researchers and policy makers to understand the risk of silicosis by these three different factors.

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