Queensland will introduce Australia’s first Code of Practice for the stone benchtop industry, Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace announced today.
Ms Grace said the Code was another significant step forward in the Palaszczuk Government’s efforts to eradicate silicosis in Queensland.
“The Palaszczuk Government has been leading the nation in response to this insidious disease, but we are not about to rest on our laurels,” Ms Grace said.
“The Managing respirable crystalline silica dust exposure in the stone benchtop industry code of practice 2019, which will commence on 31 October 2019, applies to all fabrication or processing, including during installation, maintenance and removal, of engineered and natural stone benchtops.
“It sets minimum and enforceable standards to ensure silica dust is managed safely and workers are protected.”
The Code focuses on:
- dust control methods to eliminate respirable crystalline silica dust during mechanical processing, including water suppression and on tool dust extraction
- the use of appropriate respirable protective equipment to safeguard workers
- air and health monitoring to check dust controls are effective and there are no changes to workers’ health
- safe onsite installation methods, including installation in homes
- worker consultation, as well as training, education, instruction and supervision of workers
The Code was developed in conjunction with 23 organisations including industry associations, unions, medical and technical experts, and stone fabrication businesses and has received broad ranging support.
“This Code goes a long way to ensuring long term behavioural change in an industry that, until recently, has not put worker safety first,” Ms Grace said.
“Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Palaszczuk Government issuing the public warning about working with engineered stone and banning dry cutting.
“Since this time there has been significant progress made in tackling this issue, however sadly one worker has died as a result of silica exposure. In total 169 workers from the engineered stone industry have had compensation claims for silicosis accepted by WorkCover Queensland. Of those, 24 are for a diagnosis of Progressive Massive Fibrosis.”
Since last year’s announcement:
- WorkCover Queensland has funded an initial health screen for more than 1000 current and former workers within the engineered stone industry;
- The government has partnered with other key health and government specialists to develop clinical guidelines to help medical practitioners assess and manage those workers exposed to silica; and
- The government is now also monitoring occupational dust diseases, including silicosis, through the Queensland Health Notifiable Dust Lung Disease Register which commenced on 1 July 2019.
“On the compliance front, we have completed 148 audits of all known engineered stone fabrication workplaces and 598 notices have been issued for offences such as dry cutting, poor dust control, and improper protective equipment. Sixteen infringement notices have also been issued with fines totalling $54,000,” Ms Grace said.
During Safe Work Month in October, the Government will partner with the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists to hold state-wide information sessions promoting the Code and raising awareness of the health risks of silica.
“This Code of Practice will be a continuation of the work being done in ushering in a safer chapter in the history for the stone benchtop industry,” Ms Grace said.
Master Builders Queensland Safety & Environment Manager, Melanie Roberts, said the peak body recognised the need for guidance on managing the exposure to silica dust in the stone benchtop industry.
“This code provides a number of practical measures to assist the stone benchtop industry in improving their practices and protecting workers,” Ms Roberts said.
Housing Industry Association Building Services Assistant Director, Kelvin Cuskelly, said his organisation welcomed the opportunity to work with the government on the development of the code.
“HIA welcomed the opportunity to be part of the COP committee for reconstituted benchtops to develop standards and practices that will ensure the good health of those who work in this sector,” Mr Cuskelly said.
Ms Grace confirmed that ongoing audits of engineered stone fabrication workplaces will ensure the requirements of the Code are being met. She also announced work will now commence on a silica dust code of practice for the construction industry.