Minister for Industrial Relations Grace Grace recently made statements in Parliament and to the media urgently alerting workers and employers in Queensland's engineered stone benchtop fabrication industry to the risks of exposure to respirable crystalline silica.
As well as reminding employers that uncontrolled dry cutting of engineered stone is prohibited, she also announced plans to develop explicit regulations to re-enforce existing legislative requirements. This will include a new code of practice prescribing the minimum standard for controlling silica exposure in the stone benchtop industry, to be in place by early 2019.
A working group has been established to develop the code of practice, comprised of medical, union, industry, WorkCover Queensland and government representatives. This group has already acknowledged that aspects of the code will have relevance to managing silica dust exposure in the construction industry. Development of the stone benchtop industry code will therefore lead to the development of a silica dust code for the whole construction industry.
There is no proven treatment for silicosis and the effects are irreversible, which means prevention of this disease through control of silica dust exposure is vital. WorkCover Queensland is currently managing multiple silicosis claims from engineered stone benchtop workers and tragically several of these workers have been diagnosed with Progressive Massive Fibrosis (PMF). Many of these workers are under the age of 40 and most had no symptoms when their disease was diagnosed.
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland is currently auditing all known stone bench top fabrication workshops in Queensland, with over 150 to be audited by the end of 2018. From 105 of these, already 405 improvement notices have been issued for matters such as health monitoring, provision of respiratory protective equipment and inadequate dust control measures. As well, 40 prohibition notices have been issued, mainly for uncontrolled dry cutting. WHSQ will follow up and take enforcement action where it's required to ensure these businesses take steps to arrange health monitoring for their workers.
Please note that WorkCover Queensland can assist with organising health screening for workers in the stone benchtop fabrication industry. You are encouraged to contact WorkCover Queensland on 3006 8365 to discuss the ways they can support you to meet your obligations in relation to health monitoring of your workers.
Learn more about respirable crystalline silica.