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Silica safe

WorkSafe’s new Silica Dust Awareness Campaign 2019

WorkSafe’s new campaign raises awareness of silica dust exposure and the terrible — sometimes fatal — diseases that breathing in silica dust can cause. The ultimate aim of this campaign is to prevent the diseases caused by workplace dust exposure by encouraging employers and workers to take measures and act now.

The campaign’s taglines are ‘Don’t breathe dust’ and ‘Be silica safe’. The campaign is aimed at tradespeople and others who may be exposed to silica dust through their work. This includes those who work with natural and engineered or composite stone (for example making kitchen benchtops) and in the construction industry. It also includes home renovators who may be working with these materials.

The campaign launched on 1 November 2019 and is running statewide for three months. The campaign includes television, radio and print commercials and bus advertising supported by posts on our social media sites, and posters and flyers that workplaces can print and display.

Campaign resources

Campaign kit for stakeholder use

two children running towards man who is using power saw which is causing dust

Download Campaign kit (PDF, 3.4 MB)

Posters

Call our Helpline to have printed copies (poster 2 only) sent to you.

Silica dust and its health effects

Silica is found in stone, rock, sand, gravel and clay, and bricks, tiles, concrete and some plastic materials. Engineered materials containing silica, such as composite stone, are used to fabricate kitchen benches and countertops

When these materials are worked on or cut, silica is released as a fine dust.

Depending on factors such as how much dust a worker breathes in and for how long, crystalline silica can cause the following health effects:

  • silicosis – a scarring of the lung which can result in a severe shortness of breath. Severe cases can result in complications leading to death. It is fast-acting. It is not reversible — but it is a preventable disease
  • lung cancer
  • kidney disease

At-risk occupations

In the past, silicosis was associated with mining, quarrying, drilling and foundry work. Its occurrence in these industries gradually lessened as successful control measures (such as using water to keep dust down) were introduced.

Silicosis is now reappearing, especially where workers cut and shape stone, sandstone or manufactured stone to make kitchen, bathroom and commercial benchtops and other products.

Other tasks putting workers at risk include sandblasting, bricklaying, cutting bricks and tiles.

Those working in demolition, construction and mining are also at risk.

Home renovators should also follow guidelines to reduce their risk of inhaling silica dust.

Controlling risks

PCBUs and officers' responsibilities

PCBUs have the primary duty of care for the health and safety of their workers and others at the workplace. Officers, such as company directors, have a duty to exercise due diligence to ensure that the business or undertaking complies with the WHS laws.

This includes making sure that the business or undertaking has and uses appropriate resources and processes to remove or reduce the risks of working with silica and silica containing products. This includes:

  • identifying the hazard of silica dust
  • controlling the risk of exposure to silica dust
  • conducting air monitoring
  • providing health monitoring for workers.

In detail, your risk assessment should:

  • identify which workers are at risk of exposure
  • determine what sources and processes are causing that risk
  • identify if and what kind of control measures should be implemented
  • check the effectiveness of your existing control measures.

When discussing health and safety matters with workers, a consultative approach should be taken to allow workers a reasonable opportunity to express views before any decision is made. If a worker refuses to participate in health monitoring or refuses to use PPE as they have been trained and instructed, you as the PCBU may take action to meet your duties under the WHS laws. This could include removing the worker from the source of exposure.

Workers responsibilities

Workers have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and they must take reasonable care that their acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons. Workers must:

  • comply as far as they are reasonably able, with any work health and safety instructions from you as the PCBU, and
  • co-operate with any reasonable policy or procedure relating to work health and safety that you as the PCBU put in place, including health monitoring, if they have been told about it beforehand.

Silica dust can cause serious illness and disease. Workers must participate in health monitoring and wear personal protective equipment (PPE) as instructed by a PCBU.

Control measures

  • Where possible, cutting, grinding, and shaping should be done wet.
  • Ventilation and filtration systems should be used to collect silica-containing dust at its source
  • PPE should be used as a last resort. Face masks alone are not sufficient to protect workers.

Health monitoring

The Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012 require health monitoring to be done for workers who may be exposed to crystalline silica during their course of their work.

Resources and solutions

WorkSafe Tasmania

Beware of workplace dust exposure (PDF, 7.4 MB)

Preventing exposure to silica from engineered stone benchtops safety alert

Abrasive blasting code of practice

Other resources

Crystalline silica and silicosis: Safe Work Australia (external link)

Silica dust: Cancer Council Australia (external link)

Breathe Freely Australia (external link)

Updated: 11th December 2019