WA tightens silica, coal dust exposure standards

The Western Australian Government is set to halve the workplace exposure standards for crystalline silica and coal dust to reduce the risk of mine workers contracting lung diseases.

The new standard for coal dust is now set at 1.5 milligrams per cubic metre and will come into effect in October next year.

The respirable silica standard has been capped to 0.05 milligrams per cubic metre and is effective now.

The reduction means that on average, only half the amount of respirable silica or coal dust is allowed in the air where people are working.

Western Australian Minister for Mines and Petroleum, Energy and Industrial Relations Bill Johnston said that the Western Australian Government took early detection of these illnesses very seriously and employers must ensure the new limits were not exceeded.

“The changes in exposure standards are a win for workers, particularly in the stone benchtop industry, who now have the right to extra preventative measures for silicosis,” Johnston said.

“Silicosis is an emerging workplace health issue; early intervention is the only solution to managing these risks.

“WorkSafe’s inspection program has looked at more than 100 workplaces to ensure employers are aware of the risks from silica and their responsibilities under workplace safety laws. The McGowan Government is taking steps to minimise these risks.”

Employers of workers who are at risk of silicosis must provide health surveillance to the latter.

WorkSafe also requires appointed medical professionals to provide information on the use of low-dose CT scans when screening at-risk workers.

Inhaling crystalline silica, which may cause silicosis, can be generated from a range of activities such as mining, quarrying, minerals processing, brick, concrete or stonecutting, excavation, tunnelling, earthmoving, drilling, clay and stone processing and blasting.

Coal dust can cause workers’ pneumoconiosis, commonly known as the black lung disease, and has resulted in the deaths of underground coal miners in Queensland.