Victoria recently introduced a ban on the uncontrolled dry cutting of engineered stone in order to better protect workers from exposure to deadly silica dust.
Occupational health and safety regulations now prohibit the cutting, grinding and abrasive polishing of engineered stone with power tools, unless on-tool water suppression or dust extraction devices are in place and respiratory protection equipment is used.
If it is not reasonably practicable to use water suppression or dust extraction, local exhaust ventilation must be used.
Engineered stone, sometimes also called reconstituted stone, can contain up to 95 per cent crystalline silica, which is a hazardous substance that can lead to serious health effects if it is inhaled.
When engineered stone products are processed, very fine dust containing respirable crystalline silica is released into the air, and people working with these products, such as stonemasons, are at high risk of being exposed to the dust if it is not controlled.
Exposure can result in silicosis, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, lung cancer, kidney damage and scleroderma.
The new regulations will dramatically cut workers’ exposure to crystalline silica, and therefore reduce their likelihood of developing silicosis, according to WorkSafe Victoria, which said that employers and people that are self-employed, or are managing or control a workplace, are responsible for making sure the required measures are in place and equipment is supplied.
Slater and Gordon Principal Lawyer Claire Setches said while there was now a stronger focus on lung health and awareness of dust disease among the health community, lung health needed to be more of a priority in Australia.
The Victorian Government has been responsive in banning uncontrolled dry cutting, providing free health screenings for Victoria’s 1400 stonemasons and a putting in place a tough new compliance code for businesses working with silica, Setches added.
Slater and Gordon has also launched an investigation into a class action against the manufacturers of popular kitchen and bathroom stone benchtops.
It was also the first law firm to establish a National Asbestos Register for Australians as well as a National Silicosis Register for people to register their exposure to silica dust.