What risk does crystalline silica pose to Australian businesses and their workers?
Crystalline silica is a mineral compound found in soil, rock and sand. Respirable crystalline silica (RCS) refers to silica particles so small they can be inhaled, and penetrate deep into the lungs. It’s generated by the processing of compounds that contain crystalline silica.1
Research shows that — without appropriate risk controls and health monitoring — workers in the engineered stone benchtop industry can be exposed to hazardous levels of RCS2, which can cause swelling in the lungs and impede breathing. This condition is known as chronic silicosis.
To safeguard Aussie workers, the National Dust Diseases Taskforce is seeking to develop a national approach for the prevention, early identification, control and management of dust diseases in Australia.3
How legislation protects workers
Each Australian state’s Work Health and Safety or Occupational Safety Act contains general duty of care requirements. However, the regulations and workplace exposure standards differ significantly across all jurisdictions.
Prevention of silicosis
Businesses must understand which tasks may expose their workers to RCS, so appropriate risk controls can be reviewed and implemented. They should also assess the potential risks of exposing contractors and members of the public during the supply and installation of manufactured stone.
Workplaces that may provide an exposure to RCS include:
- building, construction and demolition work
- preparing kitchen/laundry benchtops (manufactured stone)
- excavation work
- abrasive blasting
- mining, quarrying, crushing and tunnelling work
- brick manufacturing
- road building
- foundry work, and
- explosives and blasting work.
Activities that can present a risk include:
- brick cutting
- grinding of masonry
- concrete cutting, chiselling and jack hammering
- cleaning up of dust and debris created by the above activities, and
- cutting and working with manufactured stone.
Safe Work Australia have suggested some control measures4 that may suit your business, along with some other resources and information5.
Employers should establish surveillance processes that can help identify changes in the health of workers.
These can include:
- offering health advice to workers
- establishing worker occupational and medical history
- conducting physical examinations
- keeping records of exposure
- offering respiratory (lung) function tests, and
- biological monitoring.
Health surveillance can assist employers in ensuring that their chosen control measures are effective.
Workers Compensation Insurance
Workers Compensation Insurance can help protect your business from work-related illness and injury claims by your workers.
GIO can offer Workers Compensation Insurance for businesses in WA, NT, ACT and TAS. Our risk team can also provide insurance advice and guidance for workplaces with exposure to RCS. For more information please contact us.
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Insurance issued by AAI Limited ABN 48 005 297 807 trading as GIO. In NSW, GIO manages claims as agent for the Workers Compensation Nominal Insurer ABN 83 564 379 108, also known as icare workers insurance. The information is intended to be of a general nature only. We do not accept any legal responsibility for any loss incurred as a result of reliance upon it – please make your own enquiries.
1Safe Work Australia: Crystalline silica and silicosis.
2Silicosis claims in the engineered stone benchtop industry (PDF, 237KB).
3National Dust Disease Taskforce.
4Safe Work Australia: Crystalline silica health monitoring.