As at 31 January 2020, WorkCover Queensland had completed screening of more than 1000 stonemasons exposed to respirable crystalline silica from engineered stone, with a small number yet to have completed the process. To that date, 199 people had been diagnosed with a work-related condition and WorkCover is helping them with their recovery and rehabilitation, while providing compensation for their loss of wages.
Of these workers:
- 26 have a diagnosis of progressive massive fibrosis
- 10 have a respiratory condition that is not silicosis
- 163 have silicosis.
In mid-September 2018, the Queensland Government issued a safety alert to highlight the significant health risks for those in the engineered stone benchtop fabrication industry caused by exposure to silica dust. Benchtops made from engineered stone have a very high crystalline silica content (up to 95%) and stonemasons can be exposed to high levels of silica dust while cutting, grinding, sanding and polishing stone bench tops and during the installation process.
A state-wide audit of approximately 140 engineered stone benchtop fabricators that started in September 2018 is enforcing bans on uncontrolled dry cutting. Other audit measures include improving dust control to lower worker exposure to silica dust, ensuring effective use of respiratory protective equipment and providing health monitoring for workers at significant risk. It may be better to refer to the new CoP which commenced in October 2019 that clearly articulates the ban on uncontrolled dry and improvement in dust control measures across the industry. Providing health monitoring to fabrication workers is mandatory.
The health risks to workers also increases if safe work practices are not followed. WorkCover continues to strongly encourage workers in the stonemason industry, or those who have previously worked in it and been exposed to silica dust, to undergo urgent health screening.
WorkCover is assisting stonemason employers meet their obligations to their workers by funding the initial health screening for current and former Queensland stonemasons who have been exposed to silica from engineered stone. It will continue to work closely with medical specialists to facilitate efficient disease diagnosis, treatment and ongoing health and wellbeing support to these workers and their families.
More information is at worksafe.qld.gov.au.