Changes to the workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica

What is silica dust? 

Crystalline silica is found in sand, stone, concrete and mortar. It is also used to make a variety of products, including engineered stone for kitchen and bathroom benchtops, bricks and tiles. 

When workers cut, crush, drill, polish, saw or grind stone or products that contain crystalline silica, dust particles are generated. These dust particles, known as respirable crystalline silica or silica dust, are small enough to lodge deep in the lungs and cause illness or disease including silicosis. 

What is a WES? 

A WES represents the concentration of an airborne hazardous chemical (for example, respirable crystalline silica) within a worker’s breathing zone that should not cause adverse health effects or undue harm. Compliance with the WES is required under Commonwealth, state and territory WHS laws.  

This means that your workers must not be exposed to levels of silica dust greater than 0.05 mg/m3 over an eight hour working day, for a five day working week. 

Check in with your regulator to see if they have introduced any new regulations for silica dust in addition to reducing the WES.  

What does the reduced WES mean for you? 

If you are a person conducting a business or undertaking (for example, an employer or small business owner), you may need to implement additional control measures or make changes to your workplace procedures so that the WES for silica dust is not exceeded. 

Here are five things you can do to help protect your workers from exposure to silica dust: 

  1. Assess the risk of silica dust at your workplace.  

  1. Review the control measures you have in place to minimise your workers’ exposure to silica dust.  

  1. Arrange for air monitoring if you are unsure how high the silica dust levels are at your workplace.  

  1. Talk to your workers and any health and safety representatives (HSRs) about the reduced WES, how it might impact your workplace and any new training your workers might need. 

  1. Review your worker’s health monitoring program if there is silica dust at your workplace, including workers who generate silica dust or those who work near it.  

Why has the WES for silica dust changed? 

A health-based review of the current scientific evidence for silica dust showed that the WES should be reduced to prevent adverse health effects in workers, such as silicosis and lung cancer.   

When did the reduced WES come into effect? 

The reduced WES  has been implemented within all states and territories and the Commonwealth. You must comply with the new WES from the date of implementation in your jurisdiction. For most jurisdictions, the change came into effect on 1 July 2020. 

What changes might I need to make? 

You may need to introduce new control measures to further minimise exposure to silica dust. This could include engineering controls such as local exhaust ventilation (LEV), on-tool dust extraction, wet cutting methods and respiratory protective equipment.  

What do my workers need to know about the change? 

Talk with your workers about the adverse health effects that can occur from exposure to silica dust, why you might conduct air and health monitoring, and any changes to the control measures you are looking to make at your workplace.  

Supporting Information