Touted as ‘the next asbestos’ – silicosis and silica exposure management is an issue Stonemasons, Tilers and building professionals need to get up to speed on… Fast.

With a class action against stone bench top manufacturers launched last month, multiple individual claims against employers and a National Taskforce about to be established – ensuring you effectively manage and comply with silica exposure standards is critical. Not only to protect your people from the deadly diseases that exposure can cause, but also to protect your business.

Silica Safety Management
– protect your business from the fallout

Awareness of the deadly repercussions of silica exposure and silicosis has grown over the last few years – both internationally and here in Australia. So much so, that it is now being labeled as the ‘next asbestos’.

The Federal Government has announced that it will establish a National Taskforce tocreate a national dust diseases register and undertake research into prevention and treatment of occupational lung diseases – with a strong focus on silicosis.

With legal action and claims being made against stone bench top manufacturers and individual employers across the country, there is no doubt that the issue is only going to get bigger. WorkSafe is prioritising it and regulations and requirements are likely to be overhauled as a result of the National Taskforce.

For Stonemasons and Tilers, in particular the repercussions will be two fold:

1. Existing work practices, processes and procedures will need to change in order to comply (dry cutting has already been banned in Queensland).

2. Builders and clients will require you to provide Project Safety Plans, Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) and other OHS related documentation to ensure you comply and they comply.

In Queensland, an audit of the State’s manufacturing stone industry earlier this year over 4 months resulted in:

  • 552 breach notices for inappropriate workplace cleaning practices, dry-cutting of engineered stone, and inadequate protective equipment being issue to stone bench top fabricators.
  • 799 stonemasons being referred for lung testing.
  • 10 businesses or individuals being fined a total of $36,000 for failing to comply with Improvement notices[1].

Need advice?

Risk Strategies can help you understand your safety management obligations and help you develop the systems and processes to ensure you protect your people and comply. Get in touch to find out more.

Silica Safety Management
– protect your people from silica exposure

Silica dust exposure can be deadly
Silica is a natural mineral that is found in a range of building materials including, stone, engineered stone, tiles, concrete, bricks and mortar. Stonemasons and tilers are at particularly high risk of silica dust exposure because much of their work involves the cutting and polishing of products with high amounts of silica in them.

Product Typical silica crystalline content
Reconstituted or engineered stone Over 90%
Sandstone 70% to 90%
Tile 30% to 45%
Granite 25% to 40%
Slate 20% to 40%
Marble Less than 5%

Silica dust can be incredibly harmful when it is inhaled into your lungs – at low to moderate levels over a long period of time, or at high levels over a short period time. Silica exposure can and does lead to silicosis (irreversible damage to the lungs), lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and kidney disease.

Australian Silica Exposure Standard

Currently, the Australian Exposure Standard for airborne crystalline silica (silica dust) is 0.1mg/m3 over an 8 hour period – this can equate to as little as 15 minutes of cutting or polishing reconstituted or engineered stone without the right safety measures in place.

However, it is likely that the Australian Exposure Standard will be cut by 75% to 0.025mg/m3, inline with many other countries around the world. There are a number of individuals and groups lobbying for this reduction and last year the Victorian Trades Hall Council launched a silica standard of 0.025mg/m3.

Limiting silica exposure
– Safety Management essentials for Stonemasons and Tilers

To comply with silica exposure standards and limit your people’s exposure to silica dust you need to:

1. Use  water suppression and wet cutting methods – wherever practical.

2. Ensure effective dust extraction when wet methods aren’t practical (eg onsite).

3. Provide Personal Protective Equipment and respiratory protection.

4. Ensure safe practices are used to clean up dust. 

5. Be aware of dust on clothing – vacuum and at work.

6. Monitor employee’s health, under supervision of a medical practitioner.

7. Provide training and education about the risks of silica exposure and managing them.

Risk Strategies
– Silica Safety Management experts

Having worked with some of the key players in the Australian stone industry, Risk Strategies is one of Australia’s most experienced silica exposure workplace health and safety consulting firms.

We intimately understand the considerations for stonemasons and tilers, including:

  • How you operate.
  • The technical considerations and the on-site and off-site environmental considerations.
  • The exposure standard – where they are now and where they’re likely to end up.
  • The compliance requirements – the critical safety processes and documentation you need to have in place.

As specialists in the area, who have worked with stonemasons and tilers we can help you to:

  • Review your existing factory and site related processes and documentation.
  • Develop and implement effective safety processes, systems and procedures that minimise your employee’s silica dust exposure.
  • Create the necessary compliance documentation (including Project Safety Plans, Safe Work Method Systems) you need to ensure you comply.

Need advice?

To find out more about your obligations and what is required to meet them, email Lana.Rubinstein@riskstrategies.com.au or call us on 03 9863 8408.

 

 

More information

To find out more about reducing and managing silica exposure in your workplace, see:

https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/dust-containing-crystalline-silica-construction-work
https://content.api.worksafe.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2018-06/ISBN-Stonemasons-preventing-crystalline-silica-exposure-2017-05.pdf
https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/crystalline-silica-safety-basics
http://www.ohsrep.org.au/ohs-in-your-industry/your-industry-education/silica

[1]https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-02-21/silicosis-death-dust-audit-reveals-major-epidemic-worse-asbestos/10830452

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