Workplace safety reforms target exposure that can lead to lung conditions like silicosis

Cheryl Millership was devastated when she found out her four decades as an art teacher and ceramicist had caused her to develop a chronic lung disease.

Her 2018 diagnosis of silicosis forced her to abandon the career she loved, most of which she had spent on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.

“Making something with your hands is a really beautiful thing to do,” Ms Millership said.

“My favorite part of the job is definitely the look on the kids faces when I take something out of the kiln.”

She had to stop teaching and making ceramics four years ago after she was diagnosed with silicosis, a condition she developed after spending decades teaching in what she described as small, poorly ventilated rooms working with clay and cleaning up after her students.

“I did a lot of cleaning up after them and trying to keep the area clean is a big part of a ceramic teacher’s job,” she said.

“I was aware that I couldn’t have too much dust floating around in the room, so you’re cleaning constantly.

“Virtually every surface, including the floor everywhere, is going to have clay on it.”

A woman touching a large ceramic vase
Ms Millership worries other teachers may be at risk of respiratory illness and are not aware of it.(ABC News)

She suspects her cleaning regimen prolonged her exposure to silica dust and left her vulnerable to developing silicosis.

After a change of schools she found herself assigned to a particularly dirty classroom, where she developed her career-ending cough.


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