Silica dust can be harmful when inhaled and cause incurable lung disease, such as silicosis, which can be fatal.
Between July 2017 and March 2019, 44 silicosis claims have been lodged with WorkSafe Victoria. Of these, 35 claimants were employed as stonemasons.
People working in benchtop fabrication are at higher risk, because they regularly work with reconstituted stone which can contain up to 95% crystalline silica.
When you do things like cut, grind, drill or polish reconstituted stone products, it releases very fine dust. Some of the dust is so small you may not be able to see it.
Employers should carry out health monitoring in all stone benchtop fabrication workplaces, unless air monitoring data shows that exposure is less than 0.025 mg/m3 as a TWA (Time Weighted Average). Additionally, wherever possible, eliminate cutting at installation sites. If you can't eliminate cutting at the installation site, use engineering controls.
Silica dust can be harmful when it's inhaled into your lungs over a long period of time at low to moderate levels, or short periods at high levels. Exposure can lead to deadly diseases, including:
- lung cancer
- kidney disease
- autoimmune disease.
In recent months, WorkSafe has been actively enforcing health monitoring in Victorian stone benchtop manufacturing workplaces. This has led to an unprecedented number of lung disease diagnoses.
WorkSafe is now undertaking a state-wide compliance campaign which includes visiting all reconstituted stone benchtop manufacturers to ensure employees are not exposed to harmful levels of silica.
Compliance will be focused on the following controls:
- automated wet cutting machines
- power hand tools with automated water suppression
- respiratory protection and training, where required
Where controls are found not to be adequate, enforcement action will be taken which may lead to prosecution.
For information about controlling the risks of crystalline silica, see the WorkSafe guidance, Working with reconstituted stone.