The workplace exposure standard (WES) for respirable crystalline silica (RCS) has been reduced in Comcare jurisdictions.
From 1 July 2020, the WES for silica halved from an eight-hour time-weighted average of 0.1 mg/m3 to 0.05 mg/m3 under the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011.
The new standard was agreed by work health and safety ministers following an extensive review of safe exposure levels by Safe Work Australia.
Silica dust can cause serious illness and disease, and employers should keep worker exposures as low as reasonably practicable.
Air monitoring will need to be conducted If there is any doubt that the exposure standard is being exceeded or to find out if there is a risk to a worker’s health.
Under the WHS Regulations, employers must provide health monitoring for workers if they carry out ongoing work using, handling, generating or storing crystalline silica and there is a significant risk to the workers’ health because of exposure.
While there has been significant attention on RCS in manufactured or engineered stone, exposure risks extend to a broad range of industries.
Silica is widely encountered in extractive industries, in the manufacture of many concrete-based building materials, and finds widespread use in manufacturing processes.
Typical leading industries include construction, tunnelling, foundries, cement manufacturing, quarrying and mining.
When workers cut, crush, drill, polish, saw or grind products that contain silica, dust particles are generated that are small enough to lodge deep in the lungs and cause illness or disease including silicosis.
Comcare will continue to work with duty holders to ensure they are managing risks and applying the new exposure standard.