Proactive inspection program continues to look at silica

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Employee / workerEmployer

WorkSafe is continuing to look closely at workplaces in an effort to minimise the risk to WA workers of contracting the deadly disease silicosis.

A proactive inspection program began in July 2018, looking at stone benchtop fabricators where respirable crystalline silica (RCS) is generated during work activities.

It was widened in July 2019 to include other workplaces where RCS may be generated, such as during wall chasing and sample preparation in fire assay laboratories.

The main aim of the program is to raise the standard of workplace safety and health in the industry by improving workplace control measures for managing worker exposure to RCS.

It was initiated in 2018 in response to serious concerns raised in Queensland about the high number of cases being diagnosed there. The number of cases identified in WA is considerably lower.

WorkSafe Acting Director Eve Speyers said today inspector visits during the first stages of the program identified a need to continue and widen the proactive visits.

“Exposure to silica from cutting, grinding, sanding and polishing stone benchtops and other products containing silica may lead to silicosis, an irreversible lung disease that can cause permanent disability and lead to early death,” Ms Speyers said.

“Early inspections indicated a need to also look at other workplaces and activities that may involve products containing silica, including recommending measures such as on-tool extraction, improved ventilation systems, wet work methods and appropriate selection and correct use of respirators.

“To date, inspectors have visited 113 workplaces and issued a total of 890 improvement notices and 12 prohibition notices, with information, guidance material and workplace checklists provided to all workplaces visited.

“While we found that many companies were using effective controls, many others fell short in areas such as a lack of health surveillance for all workers, respiratory protection, using uncontrolled dry cutting and waste water recovery systems.

“In addition to these issues, around one in five workplaces were found not to have provided employees with adequate information, training and safe work procedures around silica.

“Many workplaces had not completed a risk assessment for hazardous substances, and it was found that about a third of workplaces had poor housekeeping with an accumulation of silica dust.

“Our current plan is to continue this proactive inspection program until at least the end of the current financial year, giving inspectors the chance to visit as many workplaces as possible to pass on information and ensure that workers are being protected as far as is practicable.

“A reduction in the workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica is currently being considered by the State Government. If adopted, this will further strengthen the laws and provide added protection for WA workers who may be exposed to silica in the course of their work.”

Media Contact: Caroline De Vaney, 6251 2363 or 0408 927563 (media enquiries only)

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Media release
02 Oct 2020

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