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Adoption of new silica workplace exposure standard and code of practice

Recently, Tasmania adopted the ‘Managing the risk of Respirable Crystalline Silica from Engineered Stone in the Workplace Code of Practice’.

The adoption of this Code of Practice coincides with amendments to the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012, which changes the Workplace Exposure Standard (WES) for respirable crystalline silica to 0.05 mg/m3, reducing this from the previous of 0.1 mg/m3. This change took effect from 22 December 2021.

The Code of Practice took effect 19 January 2022.

What is the main purpose of the Code of Practice?

The Code is intended to be used to assist in complying with the WHS Act and WHS Regulations. 

The Code provides guidance and recommendations on how to effectively manage risks associated with working with engineered stone and, subsequently, minimise the incidence of respirable crystalline silica related diseases, such as silicosis. 

The Code includes guidance for managing risks through the lifecycle of an engineered stone product including fabrication, installation, maintenance, removal and disposal.

What does the Code of Practice apply to?

The Code applies to any work involving engineered stone. It details specific obligations and recommendations to manage activities using engineered stone that could result in exposure to respirable crystalline silica.

These activities include machining activities such as cutting, grinding, drilling or polishing.

These activities can occur during:

  • manufacturing of the engineered stone products and
  • during their installation into a building.

What does the code cover?

  • Health and safety duties 
  • How to identify, manage and control the risks of working with engineered stone
  • The workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica
  • Health monitoring
  • Air monitoring, and
  • Clean-up and disposal of silica dust maintenance, refurbishment or removal of engineered stone.

Who has health and safety duties in relation to working with engineered stone? 

Duty holders with a role in managing the risks of respirable crystalline silica dust when working with engineered stone include:

  • Persons conducting businesses or undertakings (PCBUs)
  • Officers
  • Designers
  • Manufacturers, importers, suppliers
  • Workers
  • Other persons in the workplace.

A person can have more than one duty and more than one person can have the same duty at the same time.

What effect does the new Workplace Exposure Standard have?

The WES is the airborne concentration of respirable crystalline silica dust in the breathing zone of workers that must not be exceeded. 

The WES is expressed as a time weighted average of exposure over an eight-hour working day over a five day working week. This is measured using a personal sampler attached to the workers during their usual shift activities, including routine breaks. 

The duty to ensure the WES is not exceeded is not qualified by ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’. This means that a PCBU must ensure that no person at the workplace is exposed to a concentration that exceeds the WES.  

Importantly, the Code clarifies that a PCBU must not direct or allow workers to undertake uncontrolled dry cutting or processing of engineered stone. This will expose workers and others to levels of silica dust that may exceed the WES.

The Code also makes recommendations for when air monitoring should be undertaken to determine exposure levels; and for adjusting the WES to compensate for shift variations or longer working weeks. 

More information can be found in the SafeWork Australia guidance document

Does the new WES only impact those working with engineered stone?

No. 

While the Code applies to engineered stone, the revised WES applies to all instances of potential respirable crystalline silica exposure.

Therefore, the hazard must be identified and risks controlled whenever products are used that contain crystalline silica.

A range of common building products contain crystalline silica, include:

  • Bricks and tiles
  • Cement, concrete and concrete block
  • Fibre cement
  • Autoclaved aerated concrete
  • Natural stone. 

Understanding the risks should be a priority to protect your health, your workers health and your business.

The new Code of Practice:  Managing the risk of Respirable Crystalline Silica from Engineered Stone in the Workplace is available at:  Code of Practice: Managing the risks of respirable crystalline silica from engineered stone in the workplace.

Related guidance

Working with engineered stone also carries a range of risks beyond those covered in the Code, such as manual handling. 

WorkSafe Tasmania has published other relevant Codes of Practice to help manage these risks including:

  • Construction work
  • Managing the work environment and facilities 
  • Hazardous manual tasks.

To find out more, contact HIA’s Building Services team.

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