Time to ban engineered stone and deadly silica dust
When state ministers meet today (28 February) to consider a ban on engineered stone, they must put a stop to deadly silica dust.
Engineered (manufactured) stone often contains high levels of silica dust which, when inhaled, can cause the incurable lung disease silicosis.
For some people diagnosed with silicosis, the disease is fatal.
The first Australian case of silicosis linked to engineered stone was diagnosed in 2015. Approximately 580 stonemasons have since been diagnosed with the disease out of a workforce of about 4,000.
Dubbed the “asbestos of the 2020s”, 100,000 workers are expected to be contract silicosis by 2050 unless a ban is introduced.
Queensland leads the way on codes of practice
Queensland introduced a code of practice for silica dust exposure in the stone benchtop and coal-fired power station industries back in 2019.
A code of practice for the construction industry commences in May this year, the first to apply to the construction industry anywhere in the country.
The codes outline how workplaces can meet health and safety requirements by minimising or eliminating exposure to silica dust.
- Water suppression and on-tool dust extraction;
- Use of appropriate PPE;
- Air monitoring;
- Health monitoring; and
- Consultation with workers and training opportunities.
No safe level of exposure
Acting QCU General Secretary Jaqueline King said while attempts to minimise exposure to silica dust were an important first step, it was time for governments to step in and ban it entirely.
“Codes of practice are a good start, but they are not in place for all industries and what experts are now telling us is there’s no known safe level of exposure to silica dust,” Ms King said.
“We cannot allow workers to continue being exposed when the evidence tells us it is not safe.”
Ms King said some health experts had likened the regulatory response to silica materials with industrial manslaughter.
“It took decades to ban asbestos even though it was known to be unsafe; we cannot make the same mistake with silica – at least 100,000 lives depend on it.”
Ms King called on state ministers to heed federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke’s call to fast track a ban on engineered stone.