Silica dust – New law changes coming

Silica dust – New law changes coming

Working in the construction industry can expose workers to a range of hazardous substances whether through physical contact or by airborne inhalation. At SKIPZ recycling, we prioritise the safety of all workers, believing everyone should return home each night secure in the knowledge that their health and safety has not been compromised by their job.

What is silica dust?

Silica dust has long been a concern in the construction and building industry. Also known as crystalline silica, exposure to the dust can cause silicosis, a lung disease caused by inhaling crystalline silica. The dust is insidious, 100 times smaller than a grain of sand, it can be breathed in without your knowledge.

Present in both natural and man-made materials in varying amounts, crystalline silica is found in large quantities in engineered stone and building and construction materials and products such as tiles, glass and bricks. It has been postulated that the resurgence of silicosis in Australian has been commensurate with the popularity of engineered stone in kitchen benchtops.

Risk to workers

Crystalline silica dust is toxic. Modelling carried out by Curtin University suggests that as many as half a million Australian workers are currently being exposed to the dust. It is also estimated that up to 103,000 workers will be diagnosed with silicosis due to being exposed to the dust and more than 10,000 are predicted to develop lung cancer.

Industry changes

At present the best method for reducing exposure to silica dust is by implementing methods to suppress the dispersion of silica dust particles including consistent use of high-quality respiratory protection, practicing mandatory wet cutting and on-tool dust extraction.

As of 1 July 2024, employers will no longer be permitted to carry out work involving the manufacturing, supply, processing or installation of engineered stone. There are some exceptions to the new law relating to removal, repair, minor modification and the disposal of engineered stone products. Engineered products containing only trace levels of crystalline silica (<1 percent) are also excepted.

In an environment like SKIPZ recycling facilities, where large amounts of mixed building and construction materials are being processed, the exposure to products containing crystalline silica is inevitable.

There are a range of silica dust masks and respirator kits available and these should be worn at all times when working in an area where there is potential for exposure. Respirators must be rated P2 rated or better – surgical masks or similar are not suitable to fully protect workers.

At SKIPZ, the safety of our staff, customers and the environment is our highest priority. Our weekly Toolbox Talks highlight the risks around exposure to toxic materials including silica dust and outline mitigation strategies to protect workers health and safety.

Further reading

SafeWork: https://www.safework.nsw.gov.au/hazards-a-z/hazardous-chemical/priority-chemicals/crystalline-silica

Silica safety reminder ahead of engineered stone ban: https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/news/2024-02/silica-safety-reminder-ahead-engineered-stone-ban

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