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Reduction in workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica

The national workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica has been halved from an eight hour time-weighted average airborne concentration of 0.1 milligrams per cubic metre (mg/m3) to 0.05 mg/m3. This new workplace exposure standard takes effect in Queensland from 1 July 2020.

What it means for you

You must manage worker exposure to dust and meet your existing duties and obligations under Queensland work health and safety legislation. This means:

  • using higher order controls (including elimination, engineering, isolation and substitution)
  • air monitoring
  • health monitoring
  • training for workers
  • appropriate respiratory protective equipment.

Health risks of exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust

Respirable crystalline silica dust is so fine you usually can’t see it. It can stay airborne for long periods of time and easily be inhaled deep into the lungs. Breathing in respirable crystalline silica dust can cause serious lung diseases including silicosis and lung cancer as well as chronic renal disease and autoimmune disorders.

Make improvements to dust controls to meet the new standard

  1. Control the dust

    Existing work health and safety laws in Queensland prohibit dry cutting or dry processing of materials with high levels of crystalline silica. Dry processing activities (e.g. drilling, polishing, cutting, trimming, grinding) can expose workers to levels of respirable crystalline silica that exceed the workplace exposure standard of 0.05 mg/m3.

    To help meet the new standard, use a combination of controls to stop dust at its source, remove dust from the air and stop dust from spreading.While different industries have different processes and requirements, all industries can use these higher order controls to protect workers.

    Stop dust at its source

    • Use products with a lower silica content e.g. use autoclaved aerated concrete in place of traditional (higher silica content) concrete masonry.
    • Use enclosed equipment.
    • Use water suppression methods in combination with spray/mist guards.
    • Use on-tool dust extraction.
    • Portable dust extractors should be H class rated. Note: M class portable dust extractors can be used in the construction industry.
    • Use tools that produce less dust (e.g. use a fibre cement sheet shear instead of a circular saw).

    Remove dust from the air

    • Use a dust capture hood/local exhaust ventilation.
    • Carry out dailystart-up checks to ensure machine and spray/mist guards and local exhaust ventilation are fitted correctly and working effectively.

    Stop dust from spreading

    • Enclose a dusty process in a booth or enclosure e.g. abrasive blasting cabinet or glove box.
    • Clean up regularly, but at least once a day, with a H Class vacuum, wet methods or low-pressure water. Note: M class vacuum cleaners can be used in the construction industry.
    • Dispose of wet dust slurry before it dries out in a way that minimises the risk of dust being redistributed over the workplace (e.g. covered, kept wet, bagged).

    Protect workers

    • Fully enclose operator cabins or control rooms.
    • Pressurise fixed and mobile operator cabins, and control rooms.
    • Use HEPA filters on incoming and recirculated air in fixed and mobile operator cabins, and control rooms.

    Onsite installation of stone benchtops

    Cutting, grinding, trimming, sanding or polishing of materials with high levels of crystalline silica during onsite installation should be minimised by:

    • accurate measuring of materials in planning and at the workshop
    • consulting with principal contractors and clients toprevent the need for any alterations on site.

    For businesses in the stone benchtop industry, the Managing respirable crystalline silica dust exposure in the stone benchtop industry Code of Practice 2019 (PDF, 931.52 KB) sets out the minimum standards that must be met in relation to controls. Failure to meet these standards will result in enforcement action.

  2. Wear the right respirator

    Choosing and wearing the right respirator for the job is essential to protect your workers’ health. Make sure workers:

    • choose a respirator that is suitable for the level of dust in the air
    • wear a respirator that is fitted with at least a P1 or P2 filter.

    Refer to the fit-testing requirements for tight-fitting respirators (PDF, 883 KB) brochure for more information.

    For businesses in the stone benchtop industry, the Managing respirable crystalline silica dust exposure in the stone benchtop industry Code of Practice 2019 (PDF, 931.52 KB) sets out the minimum standards that must be met for respiratory protective equipment for workers–stone benchtop fabrication workers must wear a powered air purifying respirator with a P2 filter. Failure to meet these standards will result in enforcement action.

  3. Carry out air monitoring

    If you are not sure if the airborne concentration of respirable crystalline silica exceeds the workplace exposure standard you must carry out air monitoring.

    For businesses in the stone benchtop industry, the Managing respirable crystalline silica dust exposure in the stone benchtop industry Code of Practice 2019 (PDF, 931.52 KB) sets out the minimum standards that must be met with regard to air monitoring. Failure to meet these standards will result in enforcement action.

  4. Carry out health monitoring

    You must provide health monitoring to workers who are using, handling, generating or storing respirable crystalline silica and there is a significant risk to their health.

    Refer to Safe Work Australia’s guidance for health monitoring for more detailed information on health monitoring.

For businesses in the stone benchtop industry, the Managing respirable crystalline silica dust exposure in the stone benchtop industry Code of Practice 2019(PDF, 931.52 KB) sets out the minimum standards that must be met with regard to health monitoring. Failure to meet these standards will result in enforcement action.

Order a copy of the Reduction in workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica (PDF, 426.67 KB) for your workplace or your stakeholders.

Last updated
29 April 2020

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