Employers in Queensland’s stone benchtop industry are now subject to a Code of Practice.
Known as the “Managing respirable crystalline silica dust exposure in the stone benchtop industry” Code of Practice, it will come into effect on 31 October 2019 for all entities who fabricate, process, install, maintain or remove engineered and natural stone benchtops.
The Code of Practice
Pursuant to section 26A of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld), all entities with a duty of care (e.g. employers) must comply with the new approved Code of Practice or follow another method, such as a technical or industry standard, if it provides an equivalent or higher standard of work health and safety than the standard required in the Code.
Generally, workers have a higher risk to their health from exposure to respirable crystalline silica during fabrication of stone benchtops. The more cutting, grinding, trimming, sanding or polishing a worker does the higher the risk to their health. Without adequate controls in place these practices generate dust or mist clouds which may contain very high respirable crystalline silica concentrations.
The Code makes a number of recommendations about the appropriate strategies for entities with a duty of care, including:
- Development of dust control plan;
- Water suppression and ventilation;
- Worker isolation; and
- Respiratory equipment.
The Code’s history
In 2019, Minister for Industrial Relations Grace Grace made statements in the Queensland Parliament and to the media urgently alerting workers and employers in Queensland’s engineered stone benchtop fabrication industry to the risks of exposure to respirable crystalline silica. The Minster noted there is no proven treatment for silicosis and the effects are irreversible, which means prevention of this and other occupational dust lung diseases through control of silica dust exposure is vital.
Following those comments, a working group comprised of medical, union, industry, WorkCover Queensland and government representatives was formed to develop the Code.
The development of the Code comes on the back of a number of significant reforms and processes introduced both federally and in Queensland in response to the growing emergence of occupational dust lung diseases, including:
- 2018 – updated Guideline for Management of Respirable Crystalline Silica in Queensland Mineral Mines and Quarries;
- 2019 – Safe Work Australia working with silica and silica containing products; and
- 2019 – Queensland’s Notifiable Dust Lung Disease Register.
Recently Queensland health and safety officers conducted 148 audits of all known engineered stone fabrication workplaces, and issued 598 notices for offences including dry cutting, poor dust control, and improper protective equipment. Penalties for entities can be significant.
Summary and lessons
Queensland has introduced a Code of Practice for the stone benchtop industry.
All relevant entities with a duty of care must comply with the new approved Code of Practice, effective 31 October 2019.
The Code provides a number of practical measures to assist the stone benchtop industry in improving their practices and protecting workers, and contraventions of the Code can result in severe penalties.
For affected employers and other entities, a copy of the code can be found here.
This article was written by Tony Scott, Partner, Graeme Traves, Partner and Rowan McDonald, Solicitor.