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Silicosis: The Cutting Truth

September 25, 2019 9:21 pm

The Andrews Labor Government are banning the uncontrolled dry cutting of engineered stone to protect Victorian workers from exposure to deadly silica dust. Silica is silicon dioxide, a naturally occurring and widely available mineral that forms the major component of most rocks and soils. It doesn’t sound harmful on the surface, however it is a growing concern and a real health risk.

According to an article in the Geelong Advertiser health professionals are desperately working to raise awareness of the deadly disease, which occurs after being exposed to crystalline silica dust. Silica dust is a hazardous substance impacting workers in tunnelling, quarrying, mining and stone masonry in particular.

In the 2018–19 financial year WorkSafe received 55 claims for silica-related conditions . The State Labor government is participating in developing a national silicosis strategy and arguing to reduce reduce the Australian silica workplace exposure standard from 0.1mg to 0.02mg over an eight-hour day. Whilst Safe Work Australia recently signed off on a 0.05mg standard the AWU will continue to argue for a 0.02 mg standard in Victoria.

Miners, construction and quarry workers have traditionally been prone to silicosis, and AWU quarry members have suffered from silicosis for years, with two AWU members employed at a quarry in Lang Lang being recently diagnosed with silicosis. Finally and belatedly it is getting the attention it deserves.

The Conversation reported that about 6.6% of Australian workers are exposed to crystalline silica dust that can be breathed in, and 3.7% are heavily exposed. Though not all workers will go on to develop silicosis, a significant proportion will, with symptoms appearing between months and many years after exposure, depending on the type of silicosis.

Education seminars for stonemasons and health professionals are taking place across the state. GPs and medical specialists gathered at a summit at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre on Saturday 31st August, the program addressed associated diseases, future initiatives and the problem of Silicosis within Australia. The work and research about combatting this deadly disease is only just beginning but at the AWU we are committed to do everything we can to prevent more workers having their lives shortened by this awful disease.

Worried about exposure to silica dust? Contact the AWU immediately via your members’ portal.

If you do one of these jobs you are at risk of exposure to silica dust:

  • Road construction
  • Moving earth
  • Manufacturing glass, ceramics, brick, concrete, tile or metals
  • Mineral ore – treating process
  • Breaking, crushing, grinding or milling material containing silica
  • Cutting, grinding, sanding and polishing stone bench tops
  • Paving, surfacing or cement finishing
  • Sand blasting or casting
  • Clean up activities such as dry sweeping pressurised air blowing of concrete or sand dust

Your employer is required to control the risks of silica dust by:

  • Providing well-fitted respiratory protective equipment (RPE)
  • Fitting tools and equipment with extraction devices to eliminate dust
  • Using water suppression to wet dust down when there are no extraction devices fitted on tools
  • Monitoring your health including physical examination, standardised respiratory function tests and chest x-rays

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