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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.

To protect the health of your workers you must put measures in place that prevent workers breathing in silica dust. You may need to use a combination of control measures and not rely only on providing respiratory protection.

Download a copy of this film(MP4, 3MB)

Slide one: From the 1 July 2020, the workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica willbe halved in Queensland.

Slide two: The standard will change from 0.1 milligrams per cubic meter to 0.05 milligrams per cubic meter. As an eight hour time-weighted average airborne concentration.

Slide three: That means the dust breathed in over an eight hour shift can not contain more silica dust than the amount shown next to this five cent piece.

Slide four: To make sure your workplace is meeting the new standards: stop dust at the source, remove dust from the air, stop dust from spreading and provide workers with respiratory protection.

Slide five: Air monitoring will help you check you are under the new exposure standard.

Slide six: Review your work practices to make sure you're managing the risk to your workers.

Slide seven: For practical examples or to find out more visit WorkSafe.qld.gov.au.

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 uncontrolled 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.
    • 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 daily start-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 to prevent 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, 0.91 MB) 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
    • pass a respirator fit-test for the size, make and model of respirator that they wear.

    Refer to the fit-testing requirements for tight-fitting respirators (PDF, 0.86 MB) 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, 0.91 MB) 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 use a  combination of control measures outlined above to stop dust at its source,  remove dust from the air and stop dust from spreading, and these control measures  are being used appropriately and are well maintained, then it is likely worker  exposure to respirable crystalline silica will be minimised.

    However, if you are not sure on reasonable grounds if the airborne concentration of respirable  crystalline silica exceeds the workplace exposure standard or if it is  necessary to determine if there is a risk to health 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, 0.91 MB) 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, 0.91 MB) sets out the minimum standards that must be met with regard to health monitoring. Failure to meet these standards will result in enforcement action.

Resources

Order a copy of the Reduction in workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica (PDF, 0.72 MB) brochure.

Toolbox talk for the construction industry (PPTX, 1.17 MB)

Toolbox talk for the stone benchtop industry (PPTX, 1.07 MB)