WorkSafe’s silica dust awareness campaign
WorkSafe’s campaign 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’s taglines were ‘Don’t breathe dust’ and ‘Be silica safe’. 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.
The campaign launched on 1 November 2019 and ran for three months. It included television, radio and print commercials and bus advertising supported by posts on our social media sites, and posters and flyers that workplaces could print and display.
Campaign kit for stakeholder use
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
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.
PCBUs and officers' responsibilities
- 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 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.
- 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.
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
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) Tasmania is yet to adopt the revised workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica. The current standard in Tasmania is contained in the previous version dated 2018.
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.