WorkCover Queensland and the Office of Industrial Relations has today issued an important workplace health and safety alert advising immediate action is required to protect Queensland workers who are being exposed to silica dust as a result of working with engineered stone benchtops.
The health and safety alert follows the recent comments made by Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace, who earlier this week confirmed that WorkCover Queensland had received up to 22 claims for silicosis in the past three (3) weeks.
Silicosis is an incurable and progressive lung disease caused by the inhalation of silica dust. The condition can be fatal.
Engineered or artificial stone benchtops have continued to increase in popularity over the past decade in Australia as a cheaper alternative to natural stone but contains significantly higher levels of silica. Engineered stone contains about 90 percent crystalline silica, compared with about 5 percent in natural stone.
The safety alert announced that a recent compliance audit performed by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland on various stone benchtop manufacturers in Queensland identified an alarming number of workers being exposed to dangerous levels of respirable silica dust. Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has advised that based on these investigations, it is likely that there will be more cases of Queensland workers being diagnosed with silicosis into the future.
As a result of the audits performed by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland:-
- five (5) prohibition notices were issued for activities involving silica exposure to workers who were dry cutting and handling engineered stone benchtops; and
- 23 improvement notices were issued for health monitoring, testing of protective breathing equipment and inadequate dust control measures.
It has been confirmed that various workers have returned a positive diagnosis for silicosis as a result of the enforced health monitoring.
All remaining engineered stone benchtop fabricators in Queensland are expected to be audited over the coming weeks to ensure adequate dust controls are in place and safety obligations are being met in order to protect Queensland workers.
The safety alert calls for the immediate action of any persons conducting a business to prohibit the unsafe practice of uncontrolled dry cutting, grinding or polishing of artificial / engineered stone benchtops.
It is important that anyone who has had occupational exposure to silica dust immediately report to their general practitioner and seek a referral to a respiratory physician for further investigation.
For more information regarding silicosis and the compensation rights, entitlements and relevant time limits for workers who have been diagnosed with this condition, please review our recent blog article – “Silicosis: alarming resurgence of old lung disease in Queensland workers exposed to the new asbestos”.