The danger of silica dust from engineered stone was in the spotlight again recently when The Project broadcast a feature story on the plight of stonemasons.
Host Waleed Aly reported on “the deadliest industry in the country” and how the National Dust Disease Taskforce had found “evidence to suggest that nearly one in four engineered stoneworkers who have been in the industry since before 2018 are suffering from silicosis”.
He highlighted how the task force had identified a “systemic failure” and that “existing WHS laws have failed to protect workers from developing silicosis”.
The task force called for a licensing scheme to restrict access to the product and strengthen health monitoring requirements.
Health monitoring is where neXtrack comes in. It was developed as a new end-to-end solution for hazard control and real-time compliance monitoring to help the industry respond to the devastating rise in occupational lung diseases such as silicosis.
NeXtrack health monitoring helps monitor worker exposure to ensure they stay within legislative workplace exposure limits. It’s about supporting builders, subbies and individual workers to LIVE LARGE.
The Project also contacted Health Ministers from around the country to ask them what they were doing to ensure workers were getting proper health monitoring and their responses are here:
QLD GOVERNMENT RESPONSE
Queensland is leading the nation in responding to and addressing silicosis in the engineered stone industry. We have consistently called for a national approach to this vital issue, and we welcome the work undertaken by the National Dust Disease Taskforce.
On 17 September 2018, the Queensland Government was provided with an urgent briefing from the Work Health and Safety Regulator on the sudden and alarming emergence of silicosis cases for workers in the engineered stone industry. We acted immediately. On 18 September 2018, I issued an urgent safety warning to workers in the industry about the severe risks of working with engineered stone and banned all dry cutting of engineered stone. Since this time:
- State-wide enforcement and compliance campaign has been and continues to be undertaken, including audits on all known engineered stone benchtop fabricators in Queensland.
- 1053 workers from the industry have undergone health screening, funded by WorkCover.
- Australia’s first, a Code of Practice for the engineered stone industry, commenced on 31 October 2019 – this includes a focus on compliance with health monitoring requirements.
- In another nation-first, a Dust Lung Disease register was established and commenced 1 July 2019.
- An expert medical working group has developed standardised clinical guidance in assessing engineered stone workers exposed to silica in yet another nation-first nation-first.
- From 1 July 2020, all Queensland workplaces must have implemented the revised workplace exposure standard for silica (which halves the exposure level).
- Forums for workers, employers and the medical community have occurred, and counselling has been arranged for workers and their families.
NSW GOVERNMENT RESPONSE
The NSW Government takes worker safety extremely seriously and is leading the nation with a multi-pronged plan to eliminate silicosis for good. Since introducing our Silicosis Strategy in July 2020, we’ve implemented a number of measures to protect workers, including reducing the legal exposure standard for silica, banning dry cutting of manufactured stone, making silicosis a notifiable disease and establishing a dust diseases register that tracks, responds to and prevents deadly dust diseases.
TASMANIAN GOVERNMENT RESPONSE
The Australian Government is currently considering the National Dust Diseases Taskforce Final Report and implementing its recommendations (including timing) in consultation with states and territories. Tasmania supports a nationally coordinated and collaborative approach to implementing the Taskforce’s recommendations and will be working collaboratively with the Australian Government and other states and territories to respond to the Taskforce’s recommendations.
The Department of Justice primarily manages current responses to dust diseases in Tasmania. Some key activities have included:
- a media campaign run by WorkSafe Tasmania between November 2019 and January 2020 targeting tradespeople and others with the tagline: ‘don’t breathe dust’ and ‘be silica safe.’
- a comprehensive statewide compliance inspection program run by WorkSafe Tasmania, which focused on workplaces involved in the quarrying, manufacturing and supply of stone, stone products and engineered stone products to minimise the risk of dust diseases
- collaborative work between WorkSafe Tasmania and Safe Work Australia, and other states in developing and sharing silicosis-related information, and
- health monitoring of all workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica as required by the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (Tas).
ACT GOVERNMENT RESPONSE
ACT employers are obligated to monitor workers’ health in relation to silica dust exposure under the ACT’s Work Health and Safety Act 2011.
Compliance with the ACT’s work safety laws is enforced by Worksafe ACT. WorkSafe ACT has undertaken a targeted compliance campaign, which included visiting each of the 39 engineered stone fabrication and kitchen installation businesses in the ACT and reviewing the health monitoring programs provided for exposed workers. The ACT Government has committed to creating further regulations to protect workers from silica dust exposure.
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT RESPONSE
Development work is underway to establish the National Occupational Respiratory Disease Registry, and the build phase will commence in October 2021. It is anticipated that the Registry will be up and running in the last quarter of 2022.
The Government remains committed to developing a national approach to the prevention, early identification, control and management of occupational dust diseases. The Government is considering its response to the Taskforce’s Final Report, including ensuring that workers have regular health monitoring. In consultation with relevant state and territory government agencies, the Health and Attorney-General’s portfolios are leading the development of the whole government response to the Final Report for consideration by the Government.
AUSTRALIAN ENGINEERED STONE ADVISORY GROUP (AESAG)
AESAG supports in principle the recommendations of the National Dust Disease Taskforce and its identified need for ‘systemic change’ to improve protection for workers in all dust-generating industries.
AESAG remains a strong advocate for a mandatory nationwide licensing scheme for stonemasons and fabricators and looks forward to working with federal and state governments, regulators and the industry to develop an effective scheme and other measures to improve workplace safety.
The National Dust Diseases Taskforce final report can be accessed by clicking here.
NeXtrack is a new end-to-end digital solution for hazard control and real-time compliance monitoring. The platform helps builders, subcontractors, and workers in the construction industry identify, manage, and report on a range of hazards, ensuring every site is healthy. To find out more about how you can LIVE LARGE with neXtrack, please REGISTER HERE.