A compliance enforcement blitz will target more than 300 high-risk workplaces to prevent the deadly lung disease silicosis.
Inhaling silica dust, a hazardous substance impacting workers in construction, mining and quarrying, can potentially lead to silicosis, with stonemasons at higher risk due to the cutting and polishing of artificial stone benchtops.
The blitz is part of the Victorian Government’s action plan, which also includes a state-wide ban on uncontrolled dry cutting of materials containing crystalline silica dust, free health screenings for Victoria’s 1400 stone masons, new compliance laws for businesses working with silica and an awareness campaign to highlight the risks of working with engineered stone.
The ban on dry cutting of materials containing crystalline silica aims to reduce the risk of workers developing the disease, as wet cutting reduces the likelihood of harmful exposure to dust.
The Victorian Government is also pushing to develop a national silicosis strategy and reduce the Australian silica workplace exposure standard from 0.1 mg/m3 to 0.02 mg/m3 over an eight-hour day.
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“Silicosis has had a debilitating effect on too many tradies in their prime – our ban on dry cutting and an unprecedented enforcement blitz will help protect Victorian workers,” Minister for Workplace Safety Jill Hennessy said.
A summit for medical specialists and general practitioners will be held alongside education seminars for those in the stonemasonry industry and health sector in August.
Silicosis is a proclaimed disease, meaning workers or dependents of a worker with silicosis are entitled to compensation without having to prove that work contributed to the disease. WorkSafe received 28 claims for silica-related conditions in 2018.
“Victorians have a right to expect their work won’t kill them – that’s why we’re doing all we can to make sure workers go home safe to their families,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.
Minister for Health Jenny Mikakos said accelerated silicosis can have significant health implications and can be fatal.
“Nobody should have their health put at risk just by going to work,” she said.