Over 300 high-risk workplaces in Victoria will be targeted after the Andrew’s government announced an “unprecedented compliance and enforcement blitz” to prevent the deadly lung disease silicosis.
Unveiled by Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister for Workplace Safety Jill Hennessy, the plan includes:
- A state-wide ban on uncontrolled dry cutting of materials that contain crystalline silica dust
- Free health screening for Victoria’s 1400 stonemason
- A tough new compliance code for businesses working with silica
- An awareness campaign to highlight the risks of working with engineered stone.
The Labor Government has also requested WorkSafe examine ways for improving access to compensation for workers with silicosis, including expediting compensation claims for lost wages and pain and suffering.
“WorkSafe will also review the list of proclaimed diseases for stonemasons and those working with engineered stone with a view to adding lung cancer and auto-immune diseases that can occur from silica exposure,” a joint statement reads.
Silica dust is a hazardous substance impacting workers in construction, mining and quarrying. Stonemasons are at higher risk due to the cutting and polishing of artificial stone benchtops which contain high concentrations of silica.
The progressive and irreversible disease silicosis is contracted when tiny particles of silica dust are breathed in and settles in the lungs.
“Banning dry cutting of materials containing crystalline silica will dramatically reduce the risk of workers developing silicosis as wet cutting reduces the likelihood of harmful exposure to silica dust.”
“Silicosis is a proclaimed disease, meaning workers or dependents of a worker with silicosis are entitled to compensation without having to prove that work contributed to the disease.”
Some experts are calling the recent uptick in silicosis cases in Australia a “national epidemic” that has the potential to “become worse than asbestosis” (see related article). In response to these concerns, there is a nationwide push to reduce the Australian silica workplace exposure standard from 0.1 mg/m3 to 0.02 mg/m3 over an eight-hour day.
The Victorian Labor Government will also hold a summit for GPs and medical specialists, and education seminars for those in the stonemasonry industry and health sector in August.