SafeWork NSW focuses on silica dust and mental health risks

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Sunday, 16 January, 2022 - 12:00
Policy & legislation
New South Wales

SafeWork NSW inspectors are kicking off the new year with a series of construction site visits to talk about the risks associated with silica dust exposure and mental ill-health.

Inspectors recently started site visits will travel across NSW in the next two months.

SafeWork NSW executive director of compliance and dispute resolution Tony Williams said inspectors will be speaking with principal contractors and site supervisors about their responsibilities to reduce the risk of silica dust exposure and how to reduce on-site mental health risks, which are called psychosocial hazards.

Silica dust can be found on nearly all construction sites in sand-based materials such as concrete, bricks or stone, as well as in earth during excavation.

“When cutting or grinding these items, workers can breathe in fine silica dust, which can be deadly. In NSW in 2020-21, there were 57 cases of silicosis diagnosed and seven deaths,” Williams said.

“In addition, mental health is a real and often overlooked problem in the building and construction industry, with construction workers being six times more likely to die from suicide than from an incident at work.

“With COVID-19 risks front-of-mind, it is a good time for employers to think about their responsibilities to ensure both a physically and mentally safe work environment.

“When working with products that generate silica dust, employers must have safe systems of work in place and workers be provided with the right safety equipment such as wet cutting or on-tool dust capture tools. The days of workers being exposed to silica dust on construction sites must be a thing of the past.

“In terms of mental health, employers need to identify and control the psychosocial hazards that could lead to mental ill-health, such as bullying and aggression, unmanageable workloads and a lack of job clarity.”

In November 2021, the first Australian field trials of new technology to detect dangerous levels of respirable crystalline silica (RCS) in the air began in Sydney.