Protecting Victorian workers from deadly silica dust

The Victorian Government will launch an unprecedented compliance and enforcement blitz targeting over 300 high-risk workplaces – focusing on stonemasonry workshops to prevent the deadly lung disease silicosis.

The comprehensive action plan, unveiled by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Victorian Minister for Workplace Safety Jill Hennessy, includes:

  • A state-wide ban on uncontrolled dry cutting of materials that contain crystalline silica dust
  • Free health screening for Victoria’s 1400 stonemasons
  • A tough new compliance code for businesses working with silica
  • An awareness campaign to highlight the risks of working with engineered stone.

Silica dust is a hazardous substance impacting workers in construction, mining and quarrying. Stonemasons are at higher risk due to the cutting and polishing of artificial stone benchtops which contain high concentrations of silica.

Banning dry cutting of materials containing crystalline silica will dramatically reduce the risk of workers developing silicosis as wet cutting reduces the likelihood of harmful exposure to silica dust.

The Victorian Government is also leading a push to develop a national silicosis strategy and reduce the Australian silica workplace exposure standard from 0.1 mg/m3 to 0.02 mg/m3 over an eight-hour day.

The Victorian Government will also hold a summit for GPs and medical specialists, and education seminars for those in the stonemasonry industry and health sector in August.

Silicosis is a proclaimed disease, meaning workers or dependents of a worker with silicosis are entitled to compensation without having to prove that work contributed to the disease. WorkSafe received 28 claims for silica-related conditions in 2018 and 15 workers have died from the disease since 1985.

The Victorian Government has also requested WorkSafe examine ways for improving access to compensation for workers with silicosis, including expediting compensation claims for lost wages and pain and suffering.

WorkSafe will also review the list of proclaimed diseases for stonemasons and those working with engineered stone with a view to adding lung cancer and auto-immune diseases that can occur from silica exposure.

Source: Vic Government