The McGowan Government has taken steps to reduce the risk of workers contracting potentially deadly lung diseases by halving the workplace exposure standards for respirable crystalline silica (which causes silicosis) and respirable coal dust.
Respirable crystalline silica may be generated by a range of work activities, including:
- fabrication and installation of composite (engineered or manufactured) stone countertops;
- brick, concrete or stone cutting (angle grinding, jackhammering and chiselling);
- excavation, tunnelling, earthmoving and drilling operations;
- mining, quarrying and mineral ore treatment processes;
- clay and stone processing machine operations;
- paving and surfacing; and
- abrasive blasting and foundry casting.
Coal dust can cause coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, also known as ‘black lung disease’, which has resulted in the deaths of underground coal mine workers in Queensland. There are two open pit coal mines in Western Australia.
The reduction means that on average only half the amount of respirable silica or coal dust is allowed in the air where people are working.
Employers of workers with a risk of silicosis must provide health surveillance, and WorkSafe requires appointed medical practitioners to provide information on the use of low-dose CT scans when screening at-risk workers.
As stated by Industrial Relations Minister Bill Johnston:
“Silicosis is an emerging workplace health issue; early intervention is the only solution to managing these risks.
“The changes in exposure standards are a win for workers, particularly in the stone benchtop industry, who now have the right to extra preventative measures for silicosis.
“WorkSafe’s inspection program has looked at more than 100 workplaces to ensure employers are aware of the risks from silica and their responsibilities under workplace safety laws.
“The McGowan Government takes prevention and early detection very seriously and is taking steps to minimise these risks. Employers must ensure the new limits are not exceeded.”