DEADLY silica dust NEEDS a new standard

Victorian Trades Hall Council Approved Safety Standard for Silica Exposure

EXPOSURE STANDARD: 0.025mg/m3 as an 8hr TWA

Employers must not expose workers to respirable silica dust at or above 0.025mg/m3 as an 8 hour time weighted average (TWA). Employers must take action to review control measures once respirable silica dust reaches 0.0125mg/m3 as an 8hr TWA.

Silicosis and lung cancer caused by exposure to silica dust is emerging as one of the most serious issues facing the construction industry.

Dr Ryan Hoy, Respiratory and Sleep Disorders Physician at Cabrini Medical Centre in Melbourne, related a shocking story of a 34-year-old stonemason that brought to tears many attendees at the recent launch of the Victorian Trades Hall Council Approved Safety Standard for Silica Exposure.

“He’s married and has three young children all under 10 years of age. His work has primarily involved production of kitchen and bathroom bench tops. He cuts the slabs of stone to size and then uses hand tools to cut out the inserts for the sinks and tapware,” Dr Hoy said.

“He’s been working in this industry for about a decade and since the mid-2000s, 95 per cent of his work is with artificial stone.

“During his stonemason apprenticeship he was never educated about risk related to silica dust exposure and during his work he was never screened for possible occupational lung disease.

“In 2014 he first saw his GP about a persistent, dry cough that wasn’t going away. The GP tried him on a couple of inhalers, thinking maybe it was asthma, but his symptoms didn’t improve.

Over the next year the cough worsened, and he became shorter of breath, which he particularly noticed when playing with his kids. He was referred to a respiratory specialist for further testing, including a CT scan of his lungs. The diagnosis was silicosis. He was told he shouldn’t return to his workplace because further exposure was likely to worsen his condition.

“He didn’t return to work, but his condition deteriorated.,” Dr Hoy said.

“Over the following two-and-a-halfyears he has developed progressive massive fibrosis, which leaves him short of breath when he walks a hundred metres, and he can’t play with his kids anymore.

“His lung function has deteriorated to 50 per cent of what it should be. With no treatment for this preventable occupational lung disease his only hope is lung transplantation.”

Dr Hoy told the audience, which included CFMEU health and safety representatives, WorkSafe Victoria and other building industry union representatives, that this was one example of what he was seeing in young tradies, some in their 20s, who have similar stories. The limited research that has been done showed that the damage happened in a very short time of exposure; there was no health surveillance by employers as was required; and on average, workers were exposed to double the exposure standard, with some exposed up to 20 times the standard.

He said research found that wet cutting still resulted in exposure above the current standard and people not even in the immediate work area, such as office-based staff, were exposed to levels above the current standard.

Silica dust and the deadly diseases that result from exposure is shaping up as an issue of staggering proportions. The new Victorian Trades Hall Council Approved Safety Standard for Silica Exposure of 0.025mg/m3 as an 8hr TWA should be welcomed by the whole industry and brought into effect. People’s lives and families at stake.