From 1 July, the workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica (RCS) in Queensland will be halved, but employers are also urged to do everything they can to protect workers from deadly silica dust.
The changed exposure level gives effect to the revised national exposure standard of 0.05 mg/m3 from the original mark of 0.1 mg/m3.
Businesses need to change methods and procedures to meet the new standard and keep workers safe, particularly in high risk industries such as stone masonry, construction and manufacturing.You can't rely on face masks to safeguard workers, no matter how good they are, as dust should be eliminated at the source using engineering controls to prevent it being released into the atmosphere.
Employers must continue to meet existing requirements for air and health monitoring, as well as provide appropriate training and respiratory protective equipment. There's also an onus on workers to follow the training and instruction they've been given to protect themselves from exposure to silica dust, and that includes wearing appropriate protective equipment.
The Queensland Government has already banned dry cutting of engineered stone, established the Managing respirable crystalline silica dust exposure in the stone bench top industry code of practice 2019, and provides free health screening for stonemasons.
The government also has partnered with the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists to deliver information sessions to stonemasons and health professionals. And WorkCover Queensland funded an initial health screen for workers and former workers, with more than 1000 people already screened or in the process of being screened.
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has audited around 150 engineered stone fabrication workplaces and issued 600 compliance notices ordering employers to improve control of silica dust. Inspectors have issued 17 infringement notices, with fines totalling more than $58,000. Our inspectors are closely monitoring the industry and will take action against any business which fails to put appropriate measures in place.
Silica dust is generated in workplace processes such as crushing, cutting, drilling, grinding, sanding, sawing or polishing of natural stone or man-made silica containing products. Silica dust can be generated and found:
- during manufacturing and construction
- when mining or tunnelling
- in waste or sand-based products
- in materials brought to your workplace.
More information on managing the risks from respirable crystalline silica is at worksafe.qld.gov.au.