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This information relates only to the hazards and risks of exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS). It does not deal with other hazards and risks that may be present in the work’ or other ‘high risk construction work’
Crystalline Silica is present in a variety of construction products, including engineered stone, concrete, tiles, bricks and mortar. When these products are cut, ground, or polished, airborne dust containing RCS can be generated which people may breathe-in, causing serious illness.
A safe work method statement (SWMS) is a safety planning tool that identifies the hazards and risks of ‘high risk construction work’ (HRCW) and describes the control measures necessary to manage those risks. Its primary purpose is to help workers and supervisors to implement and monitor the control measures established to ensure the work is carried out safely.
Workplace health and safety laws require PCBUs, including employers and self-employed persons to prepare SWMS before commencing HRCW. HRCW includes working in an area that may have a contaminated atmosphere. This may include air that is contaminated with RCS.
The SWMS needs to describe in clear terms how risks arising from work with products or materials that generate RCS will be controlled to enable the work to be done safely, and how the control measures are to be implemented.
A typical approach to developing a SWMS involves the following:
Obtain and review the safety data sheets from the manufacturer or supplier for the materials/products to be used. This should enable you to identify whether they contain crystalline silica and the safety measures recommended by the manufacturer or supplier. If uncertain, assume the material contains crystalline silica.
Obtain and review any specific work health and safety requirements that apply in your State or Territory. For example, dry cutting of engineered stone with a power tools is restricted and has specific requirements for controlling the release of dust. These requirements are in the workplace health and safety laws, codes of practice or guidance material available in the website of your local workplace health and safety regulator.
Review the proposed works and information in the safety data sheet. Consider the tasks and processes that may involve working with materials that contain crystalline silica. In residential construction, tasks and processes may include:
In consultation with the workers that will undertake the HRCW, their supervisors and health and safety representatives (if any) review the safety data sheets, local health and safety requirements, and the proposed work.
Consider the views of workers about the hazards, the potential risk control measures and any site-specific matters that may impact the safety of the work. If there are other workers that could be impacted by the work and be exposed to RCS they must also be consulted.
Note: There is a legal obligation to consult affected workers and their health and safety representatives when identifying hazards or measures to control risk, and to take their views into account.
To select the most appropriate control measures you must apply the ‘hierarchy of control as detailed in steps 1 to 5 below.
HIA’s information sheet The Hierarchy of Control explains how the hierarchy of control applies more broadly to the requirements for managing workplace hazards and risks.
In most cases, a combination of control measures will need to be applied to minimise risk as much as possible. For example, by using a hand held tool that has an integrated water feed plus respiratory protective equipment and administrative controls such as work instructions, training and supervision.
You can use any form or template to write up the SWMS, including paper and electronic formats, provided the information below is included and is readily accessible. A SWMS template is available here.
The control measures must be set out and expressed in a way that is readily accessible and comprehensible to the persons who will use the SWMS.
The SWMS should also identify the names of workers that will carry out the work that have been trained and instructed about the risks and the control measures detailed in the SWMS.
A generic SWMS can be used after it has been reviewed and revised as necessary to make sure that it covers the specific hazards and risks present on the site where the work is to be carried out. A generic SWMS needs to be reviewed/revised prior to commencing the work and prior to commencing a new activity or a change in work location or circumstances.
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