Dust diseases scheme recommendations highlight the danger of silica dust

silica dust

The danger of silica dust exposure and suggested control measures to limit exposure of workers to the mineral have been forwarded to the New South Wales Government.

A parliamentary review has passed on 12 recommendations to the NSW Government, following a review of the existing dust diseases scheme.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee 2021 Review of the Dust Diseases Scheme details the changes that are recommended to ensure the safety of mine workers and provide greater safety legislation regarding the exposure to silica dust.

Silicosis is a permanent lung disease that causes shortness of breath, chest pain and fatigue that progressively worsen as time goes on.

The disease develops through the inhalation of tiny particles of silica that are in the air over a period of time, typically a few years at a low exposure to silica, but can be as little as a few weeks in areas of high exposure.

The most common mine activities where exposure may be elevated include the drilling of rock and crushing and loading of mine material.

Speaking in response to the review, assistant secretary of the Australian council of trade unions (ACTU) Liam O’Brien supported the changes listed in the review.

“The recommendations should be adopted immediately by all governments who have not yet introduced licensing schemes for businesses using manufactured stone, including the Federal government and SafeWork Australia,” said O’Brien.

The review recommends that the NSW Government actively work toward a health-based workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica of 0.02mg per cubic meter, including advocating for this change at a national level and supporting research that would enable this standard to be effectively measured.

The Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) estimates that around 600,000 Australian workers are currently exposed to silica dust from the mining, quarrying, tunnelling, cement work and construction industries.

“The NSW Parliamentary Committee has heard the voices of workers, unions and experts calling for better and more rigorous protections for all workers potentially exposed to respirable crystalline silica.”