News 9 May 2019

WorkSafe Victoria targeting Silica-dust workplaces

Under an "unprecedented" silica-dust intervention strategy unveiled in Victoria, WorkSafe are planning to target more than 300 high-risk workplaces, and intend to take a variety of enforcement actions including “banning work processes and changing workers' compensation laws”.

The Victorian action plan, announced by Premier Daniel Andrews and Workplace Safety Minister Jill Hennessy on May 1st, includes an "unprecedented compliance and enforcement blitz" focusing on stonemasonry workshops to prevent the deadly lung disease silicosis.

"Silica dust is a hazardous substance impacting workers in construction, mining and quarrying. Stonemasons are at higher risk due to the cutting and polishing of artificial stone benchtops which contain high concentrations of silica," they noted.

"Banning dry cutting of materials containing crystalline silica will dramatically reduce the risk of workers developing silicosis as wet cutting reduces the likelihood of harmful exposure to silica dust."

It also introduces:

  • a State-wide ban on the uncontrolled dry cutting of materials containing crystalline silica dust;
  • a stringent new Compliance Code for business using these materials;
  • an awareness campaign to highlight the risks of working with engineered stone, which has extremely high concentrations of silicosis-causing silica (see related article); and
  • free health screening for Victoria's 1,400 stonemasons.

Further, the State Government has directed WorkSafe Victoria to consider ways to improve access to compensation for workers with silicosis, including by expediting claims for lost wages and pain and suffering, Andrews and Hennessy said in a joint statement.

"WorkSafe will also review the list of proclaimed diseases for stonemasons and those working with engineered stone with a view to adding lung cancer and auto-immune diseases that can occur from silica exposure," they said.

They noted that silicosis is already a proclaimed disease under the State's workers' comp laws, meaning workers with silicosis or their dependents are entitled to compensation without having to prove work contributed to the disease.

"WorkSafe received 28 claims for silica-related conditions in 2018 and 15 workers have died from the disease since 1985," they said.

As reported by OHS Alert, WorkSafe recently revealed that it received 44 silicosis claims between July 2017 and March this year, and people working with engineered stone benchtops are at a particularly high risk of contracting the condition.

Andrews and Hennessy claimed Victoria is leading the push to develop a national silicosis strategy and reduce the Australian workplace exposure standard for silica from a time-weighted average of 0.1mg per cubic metre over eight hours to 0.02mg per cubic metre, as recommended by Safe Work Australia.

The experienced and qualified team of HSW Consultants and Lead Auditors at the Victorian Chamber can advise, review, and audit your OH&S policies, procedures and practices to ensure your workplaces are as safe as they can be.

For more information on this and other HSW support please contact us on 03 8662 5333 or to discuss your needs.

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