October is National Safe Work Month and one of the weekly themes this year is “Managing Work Health Safety (WHS) risks and preventing harm”. This theme asks us is to consider potential workplace hazards that cause injury and disease, and the ways in which these risks can either be eliminated, or at least minimised, by establishing proper workplace exposure standards for WA workers who frequently are working with silica dust.
One of the most significant workplace hazards in Western Australia is exposure to silica dust, which affects many workplaces in the construction, mining, quarrying and manufacturing industries.
Silica is a naturally occurring mineral that is commonly found in rock, sand, natural and artificial stone, clay and gravel. Respirable crystalline silica (‘RCS’) is very small particles of silica (dust) created by high-energy processes like cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, blasting, polishing and crushing of silica-containing materials.
These airborne contaminants are extremely dangerous and breathing them in can cause disease.
The most common silica-related diseases include:
With mining and construction in the top five industries in WA, workers in these industries are most at risk of silica exposure:
These industries often work in exceptionally dusty environments, and workers are at an increased risk of being exposed to silica dust while involved in processes including blasting, drilling, cutting and crushing of natural rock.
Workers in the metalliferous mining sector are also at risk as they are often working underground with reduced ventilation, which is why it's crucial to have workplace exposure standards.
Manufacturing of engineered stone benchtops is also a significant concern in Western Australia. WorkSafe WA performed over 150 workplace inspections between July 2018 and May 2021. Over 1,000 enforcement notices were issued as a result of inadequate safety controls, health surveillance processes and respiratory protection. Air-monitory results confirmed at least 38 workplaces had silica dust level readings above the acceptable exposure standards.
If you come into contact with silica dust at work, it’s important that your exposure is recorded.
If you have been exposed to silica dust as part of your work in Western Australia, and are diagnosed with a silica-related disease you may have entitlements under the Workers’ Compensation scheme. These entitlements include:
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