SafeWork NSW has visited hundreds of businesses and issued over 600 improvement and prohibition notices as part of its ongoing five-year strategy to reduce silicosis risks in the State.
The cross-industry program aims to bring increased awareness of silicosis and standardised practices of exposure prevention.
SafeWork NSW said it had visited every stone manufacturing business in the state and in addition, has had 448 interactions with businesses in the tunnelling, domestic and civil construction, foundries, and building products industries.
Executive Director Specialist Services, Andrew Gavrielatos, said the regulator was just two years into a five-year strategy and is on course to drive down future cases of silicosis.
“The strategy is comprehensive and involves four key components – awareness, interaction, research, and legislation.”
“We’re approaching silica exposure from all angles, for example, in addition to a media campaign ‘Which Mask will you Wear?’, we’ve trained 184 inspectors to deliver education and compliance initiatives, we’ve held 48 industry forums, presentations and workshops, and we’ve instigated partnerships and research into better exposure prevention techniques.”
“We’re also working with icare to improve knowledge of and access to health monitoring.”
Last financial year a total of 3,563 workers exposed to silica underwent health monitoring provided by icare’s Dust Diseases Care.
During inspector visits SafeWork NSW issued a total of 617 improvement and prohibition notices to ensure businesses comply with their work health and safety obligations around silica exposure.
Eighty per cent have been fully complied, with the majority of the remaining relating to workers having a health monitoring test where SafeWork NSW is awaiting confirmation from care.
“As the number of notices complied with shows, silica exposure can be controlled by following simple steps,” said Mr Gavrielatos.
“Cut silica-containing products with water, use ventilation and dust capture systems, wear a mask, and clean up with water or a H or M class vacuum.”
“If you work with silica-containing products and haven’t already made exposure prevention a priority, I urge you to visit the SafeWork NSW website for more information, to request an inspector visit, apply for a rebate or find out how you can provide health monitoring to your workers.”
Silicosis is an aggressive form of pneumoconiosis, a debilitating respiratory disease, which is often fatal. The progressive and irreversible disease is contracted when tiny particles of silica dust are breathed in and settles in the lungs.
In late 2018, the QLD Government issued an urgent warning to the stone bench-top industry after 22 workers’ compensation claims for silicosis were filed in a three week period (see related article).
And earlier this year, an audit of QLD’s manufacturing stone industry revealed 98 workers had contracted silicosis — of which 15 were terminal— with more than 550 workplace breaches in a four-month period.
Dr Graeme Edwards, a Brisbane physician who has tested hundreds of stone workers as part of the audit, warned the situation was a ‘national epidemic’ that would result in a health crisis worse than asbestosis (see related article).