The NSW Government has announced plans to halve the workplace exposure standard (WES) for silica, however the Greens say it is not enough to protect workers and that manufactured stone goods should be banned entirely.
State Better Regulation and Innovation Minister Kevin Anderson said the government would support SafeWork Australia’s recommendation to reduce the WES from 0.1 to 0.05 mg/m3, and would also support further research on whether a reduction to 0.02 mg/m3 was achievable.
Anderson said the reduction, along with a range of new initiatives, were good news for those working in the manufactured stone, sandstone stonemasonry, as well as the tunnelling and domestic construction industries.
“We will also boost safety rebates available to the manufactured stone fabrication industry, by introducing an industry-specific safety rebate of $1000 until June 2020, to assist with improved safety controls.
“There is now no reason for NSW workplaces to not have the necessary safety controls in place. This increased grant will allow those most at risk from coming into contact with silica to have access to the best methods of wet cutting, ventilation, dust collection and respirators.”
”With the implementation of the new exposure standard and access to increased rebates, manufactured stone fabricators will be expected to achieve compliance or face tough new penalties that the NSW Government will soon introduce.”
However, the Greens say the State Government’s initiatives fail to respond to the dramatic nature of the problem.
Greens MP David Shoebridge called on the Government to implement an immediate ban on dry cutting and to look at ways the product could be phased out of workplaces completely.
“Right now, there are workers in their 20’s and 30’s with potentially terminal diagnoses of silicosis because this government has failed to properly control the manufactured stone industry,” Mr Shoebridge said.
“We know the use of X-rays fails to detect silicosis in up to 40% of cases and lung screening needs to move immediately from x-rays to low dose CT scans to ensure not a single case is undiagnosed.”
“There can’t be any more delay or any more excuses, there are literally hundreds of lives at risk.”
In June, Law firm Slater and Gordon announced it was preparing a national class action against the manufacturers of popular kitchen stone bench-tops after the products led to thousands of stonemasons contracting silicosis (see related article).
Earlier this year, Employsure’s Manager of Health and Safety Larry Drewsen said it was essential that employers were aware of best practice safety standards when using, cutting or handling silica.
“It’s absolutely essential that workers who may be cutting or handling silica particles are given the appropriate safety equipment, and trained in how to use it.”
“But more than that, it’s vital that employers and site managers are communicating and enforcing safe work policies and procedures to protect their staff. When inhaled silica can scar the lungs and cause irreversible damage.”
“Young workers exposed to silica without the adequate safety equipment are at risk of developing a preventable lung disease that could seriously affect their quality of life, or in serious cases be fatal.”