The Queensland Government is funding a new research initiative for occupational dust lung diseases.

The state has allocated nearly $600,000 to The University of Queensland (UQ) for a three-year project aimed at developing best practices for workers returning to their jobs after being diagnosed with early-stage dust lung diseases.

This funding is part of a broader $5 million commitment to enhance the health and wellbeing of workers in industries heavily affected by occupational dust, such as mining and artificial stone manufacturing. 

Minister for Industrial Relations, Grace Grace, says the research will provide hope through early detection and safe return-to-work strategies. 

“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,” she said.

The research at UQ, led by Dr Nikky LaBranche from the Sustainable Minerals Institute, will focus on identifying when and how workers can safely return to their roles. 

“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,” Dr LaBranche says. 

The project will include 120 interviews to gather diverse insights on current practices and potential improvements.

Experts say different industries have different challenges in returning to work. 

In mining, there may be opportunities for workers to transition to administrative positions. However, for smaller businesses in the engineered stone industry, alternative roles are limited. 

“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,” Dr LaBranche noted.

The project also integrates a psychological component, with Dr Kirsten Way from UQ’s School of Psychology addressing the mental health aspects of being diagnosed with a potentially life-changing disease.