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Silicosis victims call for reform in AWU delegation to Canberra

November 10, 2022

The AWU and a delegation of unions, professionals and academics have visited parliament in Canberra in an effort to speed up vital reforms to how the nation deals with workplace silica dust.

AWU has led the union movement with our Silica Dust Kills Campaign, and this is the second delegation to take the message directly to the Federal Government.

Last year key members of the then Coalition Government, Labor Opposition, and Crossbench heard from a range of delegates, including AWU members whose health, lives and families had been devastated by exposure to workplace silica dust.

WHS Director Chris Donovan,  President of AIOH, Kate Cole OAM, and ACTU Senior Policy Officer Deb Vallance with Sally Sitou, MP.

AWU National Secretary Dan Walton says the union will continue to demand regulatory protection for all workers exposed to silica dust, and other reforms to protect workers on the back of Safe Work Australia’s Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement.

But he says the reform process is too slow, and hopes the latest delegation will prompt the new Government to move quickly to protect Australians.

“The AWU is doing everything possible for our members and other Australian workers exposed to silica dust but the current regulatory framework allows companies to skirt around the laws,” he says. “This must stop, or workers will continue to contract silicosis.

“Silicosis is the fastest growing occupational disease, the new Labor Government has a golden opportunity to show the country how serious they are about workplace health and safety by urgently taking action.”

“600,000 workers are still being exposed to silica dust every day. A Curtin University study estimates 103,000 workers will now be diagnosed with silicosis as the result of their current exposure to silica dust. We will see a tsunami of silicosis in the coming years and decades if swift preventative, regulatory and compensatory measures are not quickly adopted.”

Graham Hall, CEO of the Thoracic Society, silicosis victim Joanna McNeil, Chris Donovan, Victorian OHS Director Percy Pillai speak to Dr Carina Garland, MP.

The key asks of state and federal governments are:

  1. Banning of engineered stone.
  2. Changes to the WHS Regulations to provide protection to all workers exposed to silica dust.
  3. Establish a new multi-disciplinary independent body to evaluate the effectiveness of regulatory compliance and interventions for workplace dust by each state safety regulator.
  4. Changes to the workers compensation system.


The AWU has provided further details in its recent submission in response to the Safe Work Australia Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement, which includes the following key points (you can read the full submission here):

  • Awareness and behaviour change initiatives targeting workers, persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) and others in the construction, manufacturing, demolition, tunnelling, quarrying, and mining industries.
  • A national licensing framework for PCBUs working with engineered stone, with requirements to report health and air-monitoring data to regulators, and require licensees to undertake a risk assessment, and develop and implement a control plan.
  • Additional regulation of defined high-risk crystalline silica processes, with requirements for all PCBUs undertaking such work including risk assessments, control plans and the reporting of air and health-monitoring data to regulators.

But the AWU goes further, demanding changes that include:

  • Increased penalties for PCBU non-compliance.
  • High-Resolution Computed Tomography monitoring and screening for workers, as lung-function tests and chest X-rays are insufficient.
  • Frequent monitoring of airborne contaminants, as existing monitoring laws are not providing meaningful health outcomes for workers.
  • Allowing increased functions for WHS entry permit holders to monitor suspected contraventions of the WHS Act.

Mr Walton says this last demand is particularly important, because allowing increased functions for WHS entry permit holders will assist employers, regulators and workers.

ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien, Percy, Chris, Joanna, and Graham meet with Bill Shorten MP.

The Victorian OHS Act allows entry permit holders the right to “take photographs or measurements or make sketches or recordings at any part of a workplace”.

The provisions make the right clear when that is not necessarily the case under the Model Act and consequentially in other states.

“We are not asking for anything revolutionary,” he says. “Victoria is ahead of the game with these provisions already online.

“We merely want to make sure that all other states and territories have the same protections for their workers.”

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