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Initiative launched to protect construction workers from silica dust

Initiative launched to protect construction workers from silica dust

The New South Wales Government has launched a six-month campaign to address silica dust exposure in the construction and tunnelling sectors.

While manufactured stone stands out as the primary culprit for silicosis, construction workers may also be exposed to silica dust during tunnelling, demolition and excavation work. Uncontrolled cutting, grinding and drilling of common building materials like bricks, concrete, sandstone and tiles can also result in exposure.

SafeWork NSW inspectors will target these areas to ensure heightened awareness and compliance ahead of the upcoming ban on manufactured stone in the state. Inspectors will also engage with workers to discuss effective measures for managing the risk of silica dust exposure.

NSW Minister for Work Health and Safety Sophie Cotsis said the campaign was created to safeguard workers at risk of exposure to the dangers of silica dust, promoting safer workplaces across NSW.

“The NSW Government is committed [to] a nationally consistent ban on manufactured stone,” said Minister Cotsis. “Exposure to silica dust is an incredibly serious issue for workers in a range of industries and we must learn from the hard lessons of asbestos.”

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Silicosis, a deadly disease that has devastating effects on the lungs, is on the rise among Australian workers, particularly those employed in the engineered-stone sector.

SafeWork inspectors adopt a strict zero-tolerance stance when it comes to workers’ lives being placed at risk through silica dust exposure. They have the authority to issue stop-work notices for activities that generate high dust levels or in instances where a worksite lacks sufficient dust control measures. Failure to comply with these notices may result in employers facing penalties of up to $130,000.

In a recent move, the NSW Government has also passed laws to establish a silica worker register. This registry aims to track and trace exposed workers, enabling early intervention measures.

The NSW Government is poised to support a ban on engineered stone at the upcoming national meeting of Work Health and Safety ministers on 13 December 2023. If a consensus is not reached, the NSW Government has stated it is prepared to take unilateral action.

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