Spotlight on silica in proactive inspection program

WorkSafe has been conducting a proactive inspection program to look at safety and health issues in stone benchtop fabricators.

The program will be conducted for the remainder of this financial year, and will continue throughout the 2019/20 financial year.

WorkSafe WA Commissioner Darren Kavanagh said the inspection program was initiated in response to serious concerns raised in Queensland last year.

“WA has recorded two confirmed cases of silicosis in workers in the stone fabrication industry so far, but the numbers are much higher in other States,” Mr Kavanagh said.

“WorkSafe inspectors have been inspecting workplaces where stone-cutting is performed throughout this financial year, and these visits have identified a need to continue the proactive program of visiting workplaces throughout next financial year.

“So far in the program, inspectors have visited 26 workplaces and issued a total of 216 improvement notices, the majority for dust management and health surveillance on silica dust in the workplace.”

During the inspection program, inspectors are focusing on whether the hazard of silica dust is being adequately managed by assessing the risk and ensuring that workers are kept safe.

Inspectors are looking at priority areas including noise, manual tasks, guarding of plant, electricity, mobile plant and slips, trips and falls.

They are also looking at the provision of information, training and instruction, the wet work methods used when cutting, grinding and polishing stone, engineering controls and the isolation of workers from silica dust.

Other areas being covered include protective equipment, air monitoring, health surveillance, the safe storage and handling of stone slabs and issues with the on-site installation of benchtops.

This program has so far confirmed that tighter controls on dust management are required in workplaces that contain the health risks of silica dust.

“Workers should not conduct uncontrolled dry cutting, and workplaces should be equipped with suitable controls such as local exhaust ventilation and on-tool extraction,” the Commissioner said.

“The minimum requirement is wet cutting with a comprehensive respiratory protection equipment system, and employers should ensure there is health surveillance for any worker who is exposed to silica as a result of their work activities.

“Workers should be examined by an appointed medical practitioner – that is, a specialist doctor with the appropriate knowledge, skills and experience in workplace safety and health issues.

“We have recently seen cases in the Eastern States where workers have contracted silicosis after only a short period of working in the stone fabrication industry.

“Silicosis is a painful and horrible disease but it is easily preventable. Employers are encouraged to review their workplaces using the checklist available on WorkSafe’s website.”

A Safety Alert was issued late last year to warn about the risks of working where silica dust is present.

A Guidance Note was also issued late last year by the Commission for Occupational Safety and Health – “Safe stone product fabrication and installation” – that covers how to control exposure to silica dust during fabrication of stone benchtops or similar stone products, and the health effects of breathing this dust.

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