The Victorian Government has urged employers to adopt a stricter threshold for respirable crystalline silica than the new national workplace exposure standard.
Last year, a majority of Work Health and Safety ministers agreed to halve the workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica to a time-weighted average of 0.05mg/m3 over an eight-hour day.
However, the Victorian Government is urging employers to take a precautionary approach and only expose workers to levels below 0.02mg/m3, to protect them from developing silicosis or lung cancer.
This figure is in line with Safe Work Australia recommendations – the national regulator says all data indicates that chronic exposure above 0.02 mg/m3 is associated with “radiographic changes in the lungs.”
As such, employers are being urged to immediately review their silica dust control measures and, if uncertain about exposure levels in their workplace, undertake air monitoring to confirm that the new standard is not being exceeded.
Minister for Workplace Safety Jill Hennessy WorkSafe Victoria was closely monitoring the industry and would prosecute any employer that failed to put appropriate measures in place.
“Silicosis has had a debilitating effect on too many tradies – that’s why we’ve banned dry cutting and are rolling out an unprecedented enforcement blitz to help protect Victorian workers.”
WorkSafe Victoria has visited over 930 workplaces and issued 270 compliance notices ordering employers to improve their silica safeguards.
The regulator has accepted 102 claims for silica-related diseases in 2019 to date, up from 28 in 2018. More than 50 workers have been diagnosed since health screening was offered to all stonemasons earlier this year.
Along with banning the dry cutting of engineered stone, Victoria has also established a health screening program for the state’s 1,400 stonemasons.
Stonemasons working with engineered stone are especially at risk due to the high the concentration of silica in the products they work with.
Education seminars for stonemasons and health professionals have taken place across the state and an awareness campaign highlighting the risks of working with engineered stone has also been developed.