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Statements on Silica Story

Statements from Queensland, NSW, ACT, Tasmanian, and Federal Government, as well as AESAG.

QLD GOVERNMENT

The following can be attributed to Minister for Industrial Relations Grace Grace:

Queensland is leading the nation in responding to and addressing silicosis in the engineered stone industry.  We have consistently called for a national approach to this important issue, and we welcome the work undertaken by the National Dust Disease Taskforce.  

On 17 September 2018, the Queensland Government was provided with an urgent briefing from the Work Health and Safety Regulator on the sudden and alarming emergence of silicosis cases for workers in the engineered stone industry.

We acted immediately. On 18 September 2018, I issued an urgent safety warning to workers in the industry about the serious risks of working with engineered stone and banned all dry cutting of engineered stone. 

Since this time:

  •       A state-wide enforcement and compliance campaign has been and continues to be undertaken, including audits on all known engineered stone benchtop fabricators in Queensland.
  •       1053 workers from the industry have undergone health screening, funded by WorkCover. 
  •       Australia’s first, a Code of Practice for the engineered stone industry commenced on 31 October 2019 - this includes a focus on compliance with health monitoring requirements.
  •       In another nation-first, a Dust Lung Disease register was established and commenced 1 July 2019.
  •       In yet another nation-first, an expert medical working group has developed standardised clinical guidance in assessing engineered stone workers exposed to silica.
  •       From 1 July 2020, all Queensland workplaces must have implemented the revised workplace exposure standard for silica (which halves the exposure level). 
  •       Forums for workers, employers and the medical community have occurred, and counselling has been arranged for workers and their families.  

 

NSW GOVERNMENT

Attributable to Minister for Better Regulation, Kevin Anderson:

The NSW Government takes worker safety extremely seriously and is leading the nation with a multi-pronged plan to eliminate silicosis for good.

 Since introducing our Silicosis Strategy in July 2020, we’ve implemented a number of measures to protect workers, including reducing the legal exposure standard for silica, banning dry cutting of manufactured stone, making silicosis a notifiable disease and establishing a dust diseases register that tracks, responds to and prevents deadly dust diseases.

 

TASMANIAN GOVERNMENT

The following can be attributed to a spokesperson for the Tasmanian Department of Health

  • The Australian Government is currently considering the National Dust Diseases Taskforce Final Report and implementation of its recommendations (including timing) in consultation with states and territories. Tasmania supports a nationally coordinated and collaborative approach to implementing the Taskforce’s recommendations, and will be working collaboratively with the Australian Government, and other states and territories to respond to the Taskforce’s recommendations. 

Current responses to dust diseases in Tasmania are primarily managed by the Department of Justice. Some key activities have included:

  • a media campaign run by WorkSafe Tasmania between November 2019 and January 2020 targeting tradespeople and others with the tag lines: ‘don’t breathe dust’ and ‘be silica safe’
  • a comprehensive statewide compliance inspection program run by WorkSafe Tasmania, which focused on workplaces involved in the quarrying, manufacturing and supply of stone, stone products and engineered stone products to minimise the risk of dust diseases
  • collaborative work between WorkSafe Tasmania and Safe Work Australia and other states in developing and sharing silicosis-related information, and
  • health monitoring of all workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica as required by the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (Tas).

 

ACT GOVERNMENT 

Attributable to an ACT Government spokesperson

ACT employers are obligated to monitor the health of workers in relation to silica dust exposure under the ACT’s Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Compliance with the ACT’s work safety laws is enforced by Worksafe ACT. WorkSafe ACT has undertaken a targeted compliance campaign, which included visiting each of the 39 engineered stone fabrication and kitchen installation businesses in the ACT and reviewing the health monitoring programs provided for exposed workers.

The ACT Government has committed to creating further regulations to protect workers from silica dust exposure.

 

 

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT

Your enquiry has been referred to the department for comment. Please see below response.

  • Development work is underway to establish the National Occupational Respiratory Disease Registry and the build phase will commence in October 2021. It is anticipated that the Registry will be up and running in the last quarter of 2022.
  • The Government remains committed to the development of a national approach to the prevention, early identification, control and management of occupational dust diseases. The Government is considering its response to the Taskforce’s Final Report, including ensuring that workers have regular health monitoring. The Health and Attorney-General’s portfolios, in consultation with relevant state and territory government agencies, are leading the development of a whole of government response to the Final Report for consideration by Government.

 

AUSTRALIAN ENGINEERED STONE ADVISOTY GROUP (AESAG) 

AESAG has declined an interview but responds with the following statement which you can attribute to a spokesperson for AESAG.

AESAG supports in principle the recommendations of the National Dust Disease Taskforce and its identified need for ‘systemic change’ to improve protection for workers in all dust-generating industries.

AESAG remains a strong advocate for a mandatory nationwide licensing scheme for stonemasons and fabricators and looks forward to working with federal and state governments, regulators and the industry on the development of an effective scheme and other measures to improve workplace safety.