The Andrews Labor Government will introduce Australia’s first licensing scheme for engineered stone to further reduce the risks of workers contracting deadly silicosis.
Minister for Workplace Safety Jill Hennessy announced the scheme at Silicosis Summit: A preventative approach, which brought WorkSafe, experts and industry together to discuss the prevention of silica dust exposure in the workplace.
Consultation is now underway to design the scheme, which will ensure licensees have appropriate safety measures in place to protect workers from exposure to silica dust – including compliance with the Labor Government’s prohibition on uncontrolled dry cutting of engineered stone.
Silicosis is caused by breathing in tiny silica particles which can cause incurable scarring of the lungs. In severe cases patients will need a lung transplant and tragically death is a real possibility.
Those working with engineered stone are at risk due to the high concentration of silica in the products they work with.
Under the proposed licensing scheme, any employer who plans to work with engineered stone, which is commonly used for kitchen and bathroom bench tops, will be required to obtain a licence.
The proposed scheme would also restrict the supply of engineered stone to businesses or individuals who hold a valid licence.
Existing users of engineered stone would have 12 months to apply to WorkSafe for a licence, to give them time to review their work practices and make any necessary changes.
The licensing scheme builds on to the Government’s action plan announced in May last year, which included a ban on dry cutting, a tough new compliance code, free health assessments for Victoria’s 1,400 stonemasons and a targeted enforcement blitz by WorkSafe inspectors.
WorkSafe claims data shows that silicosis and silica-related illnesses have increased in industries that work with engineered stone, accounting for almost 70 per cent of silica related claims.
Tragically, WorkSafe has accepted 123 claims for silica related diseases since 1 January 2019, up from 28 in 2018.
As noted by Minister for Workplace Safety Jill Hennessy
“Licensing the use of engineered stone will make sure those working with these products have the necessary safety measures in place to protect them from this insidious disease.”
“Silicosis has had a debilitating effect on too many tradies – that’s why we’ve banned dry cutting and are rolling out greater protections for workers.”
“Where a worker using engineered stone contracts silicosis, any failure to have the required licence may now be used as evidence in criminal proceedings against that employer.”