Silicosis safety concerns for construction industry
The coal mining industry has recently experienced a number of challenges in dealing with the effects of exposure to coal dust. Similar concerns have now arisen for the construction industry regarding the effects of exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS).
Workers engaged in cutting, grinding, sanding, polishing and installing stone benchtops may be exposed to RCS. RCS can cause significant health defects, including silicosis. Silicosis is a debilitating respiratory disease which causes irreversible effects, has no proven treatment and can be fatal.
Controlling exposure to silica dust is vital to preventing this disease. Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) has issued an urgent safety warning reinforcing the message that uncontrolled dry cutting of engineered stone is prohibited.
WorkCover Queensland is currently managing multiple silicosis claims. Many of those workers are aged under 40 and had no symptoms at the time of diagnosis. Recent audits by WHSQ have revealed many unsafe work practices and consequently 405 improvement notices and 40 prohibition notices were issued. WHSQ will audit all known stone benchtop fabrication workshops in Queensland by the end of 2018.
In response to the increasing number of silicosis claims and non-compliance with existing regulations, a new code of practice is being developed by the Queensland Government which will prescribe the minimum standard for controlling silica exposure in the stone benchtop industry. The new code will be in place by early 2019 and will ultimately lead to the development of a silica dust code for the whole construction industry.
WHSQ has produced new safety advisory resources on managing exposure to airborne contaminants, including information about the two main types of respirators – air-purifying respirators and supplied-air respirators. It is recommended that all workplaces who are required to manage the risks of airborne contaminants closely examine the new resources available and ensure risk management practices align with these guidelines.
The resources can be found by clicking on the below links:
- Managing respirable crystalline silica in bench top fabrication; and
- Respiratory protective equipment (RPE).
The McCullough Robertson Employment Relations and Safety team can assist you prepare the necessary documentation to give effect to the new resources.
If you would like further information on this matter please contact a member of the Employment Relations and Safety team.
This publication covers legal and technical issues in a general way. It is not designed to express opinions on specific cases. It is intended for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice. Further advice should be obtained before taking action on any issue dealt with in this publication.