Know your obligations
Wet methods are preferred to reduce airborne dust, and are being enforced by regulators. Where it’s not reasonably practical to use a wet method, the use of an efficient on-tool dust extraction and collection system fitted with HEPA filtration is expected, along with respiratory protective equipment. If safety inspectors visit workplaces and identify that dust is not being adequately controlled they will issue enforcement notices that must be complied with. Failure to comply can result in a prosecution.
However, effective dust control methods are not the only matters being enforced. The proper handling and disposal of dust and contaminated slurry, the wearing of respiratory protective equipment that has been ‘fit tested’ to the worker, as well as air monitoring and health monitoring (that is, regular medicals) of workers, are also being imposed.
Industry’s response to silicosis
HIA and HIA members are taking positive steps to reduce hazardous dust levels to help prevent workers developing the disease. HIA circulated a member information sheet last year to raise awareness about the risks of working with products that contain crystalline silica and how workers can be protected.
A major artificial stone manufacturer has also taken the initiative to implement an accreditation scheme for fabricators they supply artificial stone to. The scheme will require ongoing audits and safety compliance to be demonstrated by the fabricators. Supply will be removed from fabricators not accredited to the new scheme.
A review of the Workplace Exposure Standard (WES) for respirable crystalline silica (RCS) is also underway. The WES is the airborne concentration of RCS above which workers must not be exposed. It’s a time-weighted average over an eight-hour working day and a five-day working week that allows excursions above the WES value – provided they are compensated for by periods of exposure below that value. In Australia, the WES is mandated under health and safety laws in all jurisdictions.