In response to the issue, Employsure has developed workplace policies specifically dealing with silica and is making it available to affected clients.
Employsure’s Manager of Health and Safety Larry Drewsen said it was essential that employers in affected industries were aware of best practice safety standards when using, cutting or handling silica.
“It’s absolutely essential that workers who may be cutting or handling silica particles are given the appropriate safety equipment, and trained in how to use it,” he said.
“But more than that, it’s vital that employers and site managers are communicating and enforcing safe work policies and procedures to protect their staff. When inhaled silica can scar the lungs and cause irreversible damage.
“Young workers exposed to silica without the adequate safety equipment are at risk of developing a preventable lung disease that could seriously affect their quality of life, or in serious cases be fatal.”
Manufactured stone used most commonly in modern kitchen and benchtops is up to 90% silica, making stonemasons particularly vulnerable to breathing in the particles. Once inhaled, they can cause irreversible damage to lung tissue which may lead to respiratory diseases such as pneumoconiosis and silicosis. More than 130 workers in Queensland and Victoria have been diagnosed with silicosis which has no cure.
The emerging issue has prompted the Queensland Government to set up the Notifiable Dust Lung Disease Register, mandating that all instances of pneumoconiosis, silicosis and other occupational dust diseases must be recorded.
In announcing the register Industrial Relations minister Grace Grace said: “Every Queensland worker has the right to safe working conditions.”
Drewsen said that the onus is now on employers to take adequate action to protect staff working in high-silica environments.
“All employers have a responsibility to make sure that they are providing safe working environments, and that their employees can go home safely.
“We know there is an issue, it’s now time for action.”