The Andrews Labor Government is urging employers to do everything they can to protect workers from deadly silica dust with the introduction of a new national exposure standard.
A majority of Work Health and Safety ministers have 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 Government is urging employers to take a precautionary approach and only expose their workers to levels below 0.02mg/m3, to protect them from developing silicosis or lung cancer.
Employers should 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.
Stonemasons working with engineered stone, which is commonly used for kitchen and bathroom bench tops, are especially at risk due to the high the concentration of silica in the products they work with.
The Labor Government has already taken action to protect workers, banning the dry cutting of engineered stone and establishing a health screening program for Victoria’s 1,400 stonemasons.
WorkSafe has visited more than 930 workplaces and issued 270 compliance notices ordering employers to improve their safe guards against exposure to silica dust.
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 been developed.
WorkSafe 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.
Quotes attributable to Minister for Workplace Safety Jill Hennessy
“Employers need to comply with the new national standard but we’re urging them to go further to protect their workers from this silent killer.”
“WorkSafe is closely monitoring the industry and will prosecute any employer that fails 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.”