Victorian Government unveils comprehensive action plan aimed at protecting workers from silicosis

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister for Workplace Safety Jill Hennessy have launched a comprehensive action plan focusing on stonemasonry workshops to prevent the deadly lung disease silicosis.

The disease is commonly caused by silica dust, a hazardous substance impacting stonemasons due to the cutting and polishing of artificial stone benchtops which contain high concentrations of silica.

The plan – which is target ting over 300 high-risk workplaces – includes a state-wide ban on uncontrolled dry cutting of materials that contain crystalline silica dust; free health screening for Victoria’s 1400 stonemasons; a tough new compliance code for businesses working with silica; and an awareness campaign to highlight the risks of working with engineered stone.

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The Government is also aiming to develop a national silicosis strategy and reduce the Australian silica workplace exposure standard from 0.1 mg/m3 to 0.02 mg/m3 over an eight-hour day.

Premier Daniel Andrews said WorkSafe will also review the list of proclaimed diseases for stonemasons and those working with engineered stone with a view to adding lung cancer and auto-immune diseases that can occur from silica exposure.

“Victorians have a right to expect their work won’t kill them – that’s why we’re doing all we can to make sure workers go home safe to their families,” the Premier added.

Silicosis is a proclaimed disease, meaning workers or dependents of a worker with silicosis are entitled to compensation without having to prove that work contributed to the disease. WorkSafe received 28 claims for silica-related conditions in 2018 and 15 workers have died from the disease since 1985.

Minister for Workplace Safety Jill Hennessy said the State Government has also requested WorkSafe to examine ways for improving access to compensation for workers with silicosis, including expediting compensation claims for lost wages and pain and suffering.

She said banning dry cutting of materials containing crystalline silica will dramatically reduce the risk of workers developing silicosis as wet cutting reduces the likelihood of harmful exposure to silica dust.

“Silicosis has had a debilitating effect on too many tradies in their prime – our ban on dry cutting and an unprecedented enforcement blitz will help protect Victorian workers,” Ms Hennessy stated.

Minister for Health Jenny Mikakos said the Government will also hold a summit for GPs and medical specialists, and education seminars for those in the stonemasonry industry and health sector in August.

“Accelerated silicosis can have significant health implications – and can be fatal. Nobody should have their health put at risk just by going to work,” she concluded.

Image credit: vic.gov.au
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