Pacific Stone proves the answer is yes.
“There is a really bad stigma in the industry that if you work with stone you will get silicosis. If you work with a bad factory, then yes, you will die eventually, but if you work with a factory that has great practices, then there is no issue,” says Daniel Zovko, Director of Pacific Stone.
Since 2016, the Canberra firm has been researching methods to improve workflow and minimise the risk of employees developing deadly silicosis. Through machinery, ingenuity, and regular health and air monitoring, they have come to build a state-of-the-art stone fabrication facility that is setting an example for workshops around The Great Southern Land.
“We have been leaders in the industry for silicosis prevention for years. We’ve got a dust-booth and have been testing our air quality since 2017. We’re trying to set a benchmark, following best practice here and internationally.”
Efficiency and safety are at the forefront of Daniels’ mind. Every element of Pacific Stone’s ACT facility is streamlined, with a view towards keeping things as lean and safe as possible. Sometimes, that entails having specialised solutions tailor-made to suit.
“We started customising machines and found there weren’t many companies that were customising. Then we met Pierre and Steve and bought our first waterjet from them.”
At the time, Pierre Sullivan was co-owner of Unimac machinery, which rebranded to Innovync in 2020. Pierre, now the sole owner and Managing Director of the innovative CNC supply firm, works with a team of experts dedicated to machine solutions and after-sales service excellence, which often results in collaborating with their Italian supplier, CMS SpA. Pacific Stone has had a number of customised machines ordered through and installed by Innovync, who are always willing to provide goal-oriented solutions and excellent after-sales service.
“They even painted the machines blue for me. The reason why we do that is so we can see that it’s clean. We’re trying to keep a very clean, tidy workshop. We want all our machines to be clean and dust-free at the end of the day.”
Along with dust detection, regular testing is done for all staff members, who undergo CT scans and full medical examinations. New recruits undertake this process before they begin work, so that the state of their lungs can be monitored from day one.
The reason for this is because during the initial rounds of testing, several stonemasons who had worked in the industry for twenty years or more were found to have the initial stages of chronic simple silicosis.
Identifying these cases early, before the disease had progressed, meant that the affected workers could be transitioned into roles which removed any further exposure to crystalline silica. In fact, one of these unfortunate stonemasons is about to embark on a life-changing procedure that could provide hope for others suffering just as he did.
“He’s the first to get it done in Australia under insurance funding. Hopefully that’s a positive step and more stonemasons will be able to get this done,” says Daniel.
While government-funded trials of the procedure in Queensland were extremely successful, time will tell what the future holds. As always, prevention is the best cure, and it begins with regular monitoring so that bad habits can be caught early.
Following Pacific Stone’s lead is a good place to start. There, employees wear power respirators whenever cutting or near silica dust. The factory design itself has been thoughtfully constructed to eliminate sludge, using a custom-crafted water drainage system throughout the place. Floors are scrubbed at the end of every day, and plans are currently underway to add an epoxy layer onto them in order to facilitate the process.
The overall effect makes quite an impression on visitors. The unique setup and systems haven not gone unnoticed by officials, either.
“We won a safety award from the MBA in 2018 in the ACT. We’ve got an external safety consultant, Paul Hands, who audits us. We’ve got our own auditing system. We use our own safety consultant to do audits and do regular reviews in our business.”
Every investment is executed with purpose, for the protection of all workers. As Daniel knows well, finding highly skilled labour is not an easy task. He is always on the hunt for talented draughts men and stonemasons and is willing to go the extra mile to ensure hand-picked individuals stay healthy and in the industry for years to come.
“I can sleep at night-time saying we’re doing all the right stuff for our employees,” he says.
With all the success that Pacific Stone has had, they set the bar high for the rest of the country. Their vision is for stonemasons across Australia to take on better prevention measures and eventually get rid of the dirty, dusty and dangerous stigma once and for all.
“We want to mandate baseline testing and air monitoring in industry, but we haven’t seen it yet. We’re pushing for a dust disease levy in the industry as well.”
Let us hope decision-makers listen. For now, it’s up to you to make a positive change and keep lungs clear on your own turf.
For more info visit www.innovync.com.au