Consultation 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 conducted public consultation on a prohibition on the use of engineered stone. This will provide feedback that will inform further analysis of the impacts of a prohibition, for the ministers to consider. This consultation has now closed, but you can find information at Safe Work Australia's consultation website.
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.
- 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.
If you are a PCBU and work in the construction, mining or quarrying industries, see WorkSafe's 'Managing silica at construction sites guidance note' and 'Managing silica at quarry and mining sites guidance note' (below under WorkSafe resources) for detailed information on meeting your legislative obligations.
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.
- 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 2022 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.
WorkSafe’s silica dust awareness campaign
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.
- Campaign kit for stakeholders (PDF, 3.4 MB)
- Campaign Poster 1 (PDF, 1.1 MB)
- Campaign Poster 2 (PDF 1.1 MB)
WorkSafe Tasmania resources
Lung Foundation Australia resources include a questionnaire to help identify workplace risks, a factsheet on protecting yourself in dusty workplaces and a national directory of resources and support services for those living with occupational lung disease.