WorkSafe Tasmania

WorkSafe Tasmania

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Notify WorkSafe Call 1300 366 322

Silica safe

March 2023: Consultation open on prohibiting use of engineered stone

Work health and safety ministers in Australia have agreed to Safe Work Australia’s recommendations on action to reduce workplace exposure to respirable crystalline silica and prevent silicosis and silica-related diseases.

Safe Work Australia has begun public consultation on a prohibition on the use of engineered stone. Consultation feedback will inform further analysis of the impacts of a prohibition, for the ministers to consider.

If you work with engineered stone or have an interest in this matter, we encourage you to take part in this consultation:

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.

PCBU 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.

Worker 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 their employer, and
  • co-operate with any reasonable policy or procedure relating to work health and safety that their employer puts 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.

Code of practice for silica

The Code of Practice: Managing the risk of Respirable Silica from Engineered Stone in the Workplace took effect in Tasmania on 19 January 2022.

This code provides practical guidance on how to manage the health and safety risks associated with respirable crystalline silica from engineered stone. It applies to all types of work and all workplaces where engineered stone is worked or used, and to anyone involved in these activities. It covers safe work method statements for engineered stone, workplace exposure standards, air/health monitoring, and includes a silica dust control plan template.

Managing the Risk of Respirable Silica from Engineered Stone in the Workplace

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 and exposure limits

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.

The workplace exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica was reduced to an eight hour time-weighted average of 0.05mg/m3. This change took effect in Tasmania on 22 December 2021.

Changes to the workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica: Safe Work Australia (external link) and Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants: Safe Work Australia (external link)

WorkSafe’s silica dust awareness campaign

Silica Safe ad

WorkSafe’s 2019 campaign ran for three months and raised awareness of silica dust exposure and the terrible — sometimes fatal — diseases that breathing in silica dust can cause. The ultimate aim of this campaign was to prevent the diseases caused by workplace dust exposure by encouraging employers and workers to take measures and act now.

The campaign was 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.

WorkSafe Tasmania resources

Beware of workplace dust exposure (PDF, 7.4 MB)

Managing the risks of respirable crystalline silica from engineered stone in the workplace code of practice

Preventing exposure to silica from engineered stone benchtops safety alert

Abrasive blasting code of practice

Other resources

Clean Air. Clean Lungs.:  Safe Work Australia (external link)

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

Changes to the workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica: Safe Work Australia (external link) and Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants: Safe Work Australia (external link)

For medical practitioners: Crystalline silica health monitoring guide Safe Work Australia (external link)

Health monitoring: Guide for crystalline silica: Safe Work Australia (external link)

Lung Foundation Australia resources include a questionnaire to help identify workplace risks (external link), a factsheet on protecting yourself in dusty workplaces (external link) and a national directory of resources and support services (external link) for those living with occupational lung disease.

Silica dust: Cancer Council Australia (external link)

Working with silica translated guides: Safe Work Australia (external link)

Breathe Freely Australia (external link)

Occupational lung diseases in Australia 2006–2019: Safe Work Australia (external link)

Updated: 6th March 2023
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