Crystalline silica (quartz) is a natural mineral and as such is found in many workplaces in the earth resources sector, including quarries and mines. Many materials used in construction and manufacturing – such as sand, stone, concrete and mortar – also contain crystalline silica. Working with these materials produces very small particles of silica dust, which if inhaled can cause serious and fatal diseases to exposed workers.
Engineered stone has much higher crystalline silica content than more traditional building materials. Over the last 15 years or so, engineered stone has increasingly become the preferred material for kitchen benchtops in Australia, and as a result stonemasons have been exposed to higher concentrations of silica dust. This has led to an increase in silica-related diseases among stonemasons, and in related workers compensation claims, in recent years.
Exposure to silica dust in the workplace can lead to a range of diseases, including:
- Silicosis – an incurable and progressive disease involving inflammation and scarring of the lungs
- Lung cancer
- Scleroderma – an auto-immune disease that affects the skin and connective tissues
What is a proclaimed disease?
Under the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013 (WIRC Act), the Victorian Government may 'proclaim' certain diseases in relation to places, processes or occupations. A worker, or a dependant of a worker, with a proclaimed disease are entitled to compensation irrespective of whether work is proven to have contributed to the disease, unless WorkSafe or a self-insurer proves that the disease was not due to employment.
The current list of proclaimed diseases in Victoria already included 'silicosis with or without pulmonary tuberculosis', where the worker has been engaged in any manufacturing or other processes involving exposure to the inhalation of silica dust.
What has changed?
As part of the Victorian Government’s action plan to address workplace risks relating to silica use, WorkSafe reviewed the list of proclaimed diseases for stonemasons and those working with engineered stone.
Following this review, two new diseases, lung cancer with silicosis and scleroderma with silicosis, have been proclaimed.
This means where a worker is exposed to silica dust at work, these diseases are now automatically deemed to be caused by the nature of that work unless WorkSafe or a self-insurer proves that the disease was not due to employment.
By doing so, this will make it faster and fairer and provide more certainty for workers and employers to claim their entitlements.
Current Victorian proclaimed diseases list:
- Arsenic poisoning or its sequelae
- Asbestosis (with or without mesothelioma)
- Avascular Necrosis or its sequelae
- Brucellosis (Undulant fever)
- Carbon bisulphide poisoning
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Chrome ulceration or its sequelae
- Copper poisoning or its sequelae
- Dermatitis venenata
- Lead poisoning or its sequelae
- Leptospirosis as caused by any of the serotypes of the micro-organism Leptospira, in any of its clinical manifestations
- Lung cancer with silicosis
- Mercury poisoning or its sequelae
- Pathological manifestations due to radium and other radioactive substances or x-rays
- Phosphorus poisoning or its sequelae
- Poisoning by benzol, its homologues or its nitro and amido derivatives and the sequelae of these poisonings
- Poisoning by the halogen derivatives of hydrocarbons of the aliphatic series
- Primary epitheliomatous cancer of the skin
- Q fever, as caused by miro-organism Coxiella burneti (also known as Rickettsia burneti) in any of its clinical manifestations
- Scleroderma with silicosis
- Septic poisoning or its sequelae
- Silicosis with or without pulmonary tuberculosis
- Subcutaneous cellulitis or acute bursitis over the elbow (beat elbow)
- Subcutaneous cellulitis or acute bursitis arising at or about the knee (beat knee)
- Tenosynovitis (inflammation of the tendon sheaths of the hand, wrists, forearm or elbow)
- Zinc poisoning or its sequelae