WorkSafe Victoria provides tools to help create a safe and healthy workplace. As a statutory authority of the Victorian state government, it asks: Are you a worker or an employer in the stonemason industry?
In the last year, Victoria has seen a significant increase in workers diagnosed with silicosis and about 80% of these have worked in the stonemason industry.
When workers do things like cut, grind, drill or polish products that contain crystalline silica, it releases very fine dust. Some of the dust is so small they may not be able to see it.
When breathed in, this dust can cause silicosis and other related diseases. These diseases don’t discriminate. They can affect young workers just starting out in their trade, tradespeople in the prime of their working lives as well as older workers looking forward to retirement.
Those in the stonemasonry, construction and the extractive industries may all be exposed to crystalline silica dust. Benchtop fabrication workers are at higher risk because they regularly work with engineered stone; a product that can contain up to 95% crystalline silica.
In response to the alarming silicosis rates, Worksafe has developed a free silicosis health assessment program for all past and present workers in the Victorian stonemason industry.
It is really important stonemasons and other industry professionals have a respiratory health assessment if they have worked with or still work with crystalline silica. It’s easy to register by calling WorkSafe Advisory on 1800 136 089 (option 1, option 3) or email email@example.com and leave your name and contact number.
The health assessment program has helped Worksafe identify workers who have silicosis or associated diseases, such as lung cancer and autoimmune disorders. Early detection of these diseases can lead to far better health outcomes.
Since the program began in May last year, close to 700 stonemasons have registered for a free health assessment. Sadly, there has already been over 60 positive diagnosis (all data is accurate as of March 2020). A number of stonemasons are still progressing through the health assessment program because completion can take up to three months.
No Victorian worker should feel unsafe at work. Worksafe is taking the necessary steps to ensure workers in the industry are provided with safe and healthy workplaces. Its silica action plan includes an increased focus on compliance, enforcement, awareness and education. Some core outputs of the plan ensure Worksafe can help businesses prevent this disease in the workplace and support stonemasons through the health assessment program.
There is still a lot that is unknown about silicosis and its associated diseases. However, Worksafe is committed to ongoing research so it can provide the stonemason industry with the best support and knowledge.
As part of its continuous support for this industry, WorkSafe has introduced a fast-tracked claims process, support for workers throughout the assessment program and those with accepted claims — including psychological support for them and their families — and re-training for those who, for their own health, need to down tools for good and seek new employment.
There are controls available to reduce exposure to crystalline silica dust. Ensure you and your co-workers:
- use tools with water suppression
- on tool extraction
- wear fit-for-purpose respirators
- carry out air monitoring
- regular health checks
The Victorian Government amended the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 to give workers in the stonemasonry industry have greater protection. Uncontrolled cutting, grinding and abrasive polishing of engineered stone with power tools is prohibited. The amendments came into effect on 20 August 2019.
Industry professionals must ensure they understand the changes. Visit worksafe.vic.gov.au/crystalline-silica for further information.
New compliance code
Victoria’s first silica compliance code “Managing exposure to crystalline silica – engineered stone” is now available. This code provides critical guidance for employers working with engineered stone. It includes information to assist with compliance with the ban on uncontrolled dry cutting and how to monitor workers’ health. This code applies to all workplaces where engineered stone is being handled.
If you are an employer, contractor, supplier or manufacturer please read this code and implement the required changes to your workplace.
Contact Worksafe about a free health assessment. Please call WorkSafe Advisory on 1800 136 089 (option 1, option 3) or email: firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more and register for the health assessment program.
For further information, please visit Worksafe’s dedicated crystalline silica webpage for more information and guidance: www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/crystalline-silica.