The Queensland Government has issued an urgent warning to the stone bench-top industry following 22 workers’ compensation claims for silicosis in the last three weeks alone.
Silicosis is an aggressive form of pneumoconiosis, a debilitating respiratory disease, which can be fatal. The progressive and irreversible disease is contracted when tiny particles of silica dust are breathed in and settles in the lungs.
At least six of the confirmed cases have progressed to massive fibrosis – the end stage of the disease.
Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace reinforced that dry cutting of engineered stone is prohibited, and that any employer engaging in dry cutting must stop immediately.
“Due to the high levels of silica in engineered stone which can be breathed in as dust when cut dry, it is absolutely paramount that this warning is taken seriously. Enforcement action will be taken against any employer who fails to adequately to protect its workers.”
“WHSQ recently conducted a compliance campaign involving an audit of 10 engineered stone bench-top manufacturers which uncovered disturbing and unsafe work practices, including dry cutting of stone, poor ventilation of work areas and a lack of personal protection equipment.”
Ms Grace said all workers in the industry, or those who have previously worked in the industry, should now undergo an urgent health screening.
“WorkCover Queensland will fund the immediate health screening for workers, or former workers, who have been exposed to silica from engineered stone over an extended period of time.”
“WHSQ will also immediately progress to the next stage of its state-wide compliance campaign, with 22 specially-trained inspectors on the ground from this week, auditing all remaining engineered stone bench-top makers across the state. By the end of the year all 160 employers in Queensland will have been audited.”
Ms Grace said she would write to her federal counterpart Kelly O’Dwyer to push for a national crackdown along with federal screening for workers.
Anyone seeking information about safe work practices or health screenings, should contact 1300 362 128 or visit WorkSafe Queensland.