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NSW Dust Report fails to address key concerns

June 29, 2022

A new NSW Government workplace dust diseases report fails to outline how meaningful health and safety laws will be implemented to protect workers from silica dust across all industries.

AWU NSW Branch Secretary Tony Callinan said there are some positive recommendations in the NSW Parliamentary Standing Committee’s Review of the Dust Diseases Scheme report.

But there was no indication of a clear intention to put any of them into practice with new legislation.

“It’s clear that the NSW Government and SafeWork NSW still hold the view that, contrary to all the evidence, the silica epidemic in this country is an issue that can be resolved with existing laws,” Mr Callinan said. “This is simply untrue.

“Victoria has introduced powerful new WHS laws that protect workers from silica exposure in all industries.

“But NSW is sitting on its hands and falling further behind in implementing solid laws to protect workers from silica dust.

“This is taking too much time. Workers are dying.”

Mr Callinan said some of the review’s recommendations may go some way to affect workplace health and safety, but only if broader legislative changes occurred.

They include the NSW Government:

  • Actively working towards a health-based workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica of 0.02mg/m3.
  • Implementing, in consultation with key stakeholders, measures to enhance air-quality monitoring and reporting in relation to respirable crystalline silica.
  • Strengthening the WHS framework around silica exposure, including the development and implementation of a compliance strategy by SafeWork NSW.

AWU National Secretary Dan Walton said the report’s recommendations miss the mark in key areas.

“The NSW Government and SafeWork NSW must clearly outline how workers exposed to silica dust across all industries – including tunnelling, civil construction, mining, quarrying, and road works – will be protected,” Mr Walton said.

“New laws to protect NSW workers, modelled on what has been done in Victoria, must be rolled out straight away, before more workers contract this horrible disease and die from it.”

The AWU has long called for action to put an end to dust-related diseases such as silicosis, a fatal but preventable lung condition – dubbed the new asbestosis – caused by exposure to high levels of silica dust.

In their joint submission to the NSW Dust Diseases Scheme review, Mr Callinan and Mr Walton pointed out that incidences of silicosis were on the rise, and with the projected increase in larger civil construction “mega-projects”, the risk of workplace dust illnesses would only increase.

“We will see a tsunami of silicosis in the coming years and decades if swift preventative, regulatory and compensatory measures are not quickly adopted by all Australian governments to protect all workers exposed to silica dust,” Mr Walton wrote in the submission.

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