“Under Queensland’s work health and safety laws, an employer must ensure no person at the workplace is exposed to a substance (such as respirable crystalline silica) in an airborne concentration that exceeds the exposure standard for the substance. In some instances, an employer may also need to carry out air monitoring to determine the airborne concentration.
Under Queensland law an employer is required to manage risks by eliminating work health and safety risks so far as is reasonably practicable. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risks, those risks must be minimised so far as is reasonably practicable. This includes ensuring workers correctly use any safety measures to eliminate or minimise risks, such as using respiratory protective equipment.
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) inspectors audit workplaces to check that appropriate safety measures are in place to protect workers from exposure to silica dust. If safety measures are inadequate, WHSQ inspectors issue statutory notices directing employers to rectify them. On the spot fines can also be issued if the employer fails to control the risk.
The WHS Act provides for general offence provisions relating to duty holders (i.e. they apply broadly to all work-related risks and are not specific to work-related exposure to respirable dust). There are three categories of offences for failing to comply with a health and safety duty under the WHS Act, depending on the degree of seriousness or liability involved. Prosecutions for these offences may occur based upon the seriousness of the risk. The penalties associated with the three categories of offences range from $500,000 to $3 million.
Dry cutting of engineered stone is not permitted under the work health safety laws if workers will be exposed to airborne silica dust. Elimination of the risk would include using tools fitted with a water attachment to suppress dust that are appropriately fitted and worn by workers.
If an inspector identifies that dry cutting of stone is occurring without proper controls in place to prevent the worker breathing in silica, appropriate enforcement action will be taken to prohibit the activity.
Employers are required to provide information, training, instruction or supervision that is necessary to protect workers from risks to their health and safety arising from work carried out. Any information, training and instruction provided to a worker must be adequate having regard to the nature of the work carried out by the worker; the nature of the risks associated with the work (potential exposure to silica dust); and the safety measures in place (use of wet cutting methods or using respiratory protective equipment).
WHSQ is continuing audit campaigns in the construction industry and with businesses involved in stone benchtop manufacture.
In April 2018, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland inspectors conducted workplace audits targeting the risks associated with silica dust contained in building materials. Further details at https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/forms-and-resources/newsletter/esafe-newsletters/esafe-editions/esafe-construction/march-2018/crystalline-silica-risks-targeted-in-workplace-audits.”