Michelle Baxter, CEO Safe Work Australia
Exposure to respirable crystalline silica at work continues to be an issue of national significance.
Positively, in late February, Australia’s work health and safety (WHS) ministers agreed to implement Safe Work Australia’s recommendations for additional regulation of all high risk work with silica containing materials and further consideration of a prohibition on the use of engineered stone.
Ministers also recognised more awareness and behaviour change is needed to educate PCBUs and workers about the risks inherent in working with silica.
Our work is already well underway to implement the initiatives agreed by WHS ministers, and we are working closely with WHS regulators and other stakeholders including industry and unions to ensure a national approach.
We recently concluded public consultation on options for a prohibition on the use of engineered stone. I’m pleased to report that we received a strong response, with over 100 submissions from a wide range of stakeholders. These submissions will help inform a report for the consideration and decision of WHS ministers on the best way forward to manage this issue.
As a priority, we are also finalising amendments to the model WHS Regulations to clarify the prohibition of uncontrolled dry-cutting of engineered stone.
These latest initiatives build on work Safe Work Australia has been undertaking since 2018, including the reduction of the workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica, development of a model Code of Practice for managing the risks of respirable crystalline silica from engineered stone, guidance for working with silica and silica-related products, including translated versions, as well as an occupational lung diseases education and awareness campaign.
I’m pleased with the momentum we are achieving towards our ultimate goal of eliminating silicosis and other silica-related diseases in Australian workplaces.