The New South Wales Government has launched a six-month campaign to address cases of silicosis amongst workers, by targeting silica dust exposure in the tunnelling and construction industry. 

While manufactured stone is the leading cause of silicosis, workers can also be exposed to silica dust during tunnelling, demolition and excavation work, or from uncontrolled cutting, grinding and drilling of common building materials including bricks, concrete, sandstone and tiles.

SafeWork New South Wales inspectors will target these areas to prevent a false sense of security ahead of the coming ban on manufactured stone in New South Wales.

Inspectors will ensure businesses are compliant with regulations and speak to workers about managing the risk of exposure to silica dust.

Silicosis is a deadly disease that has devastating effects on the lungs and is becoming increasingly prevalent in Australian workers, especially those in the engineered-stone industry.

The New South Wales Government has said that SafeWork inspectors take a zero-tolerance approach to workers’ lives being placed at risk through exposure to silica dust and can issue stop work notices for activities that generate high levels of dust, or when a worksite hasn’t got adequate dust control measures in place.

If these notices are not complied with, employers can face penalties of up to $130,000.

The State Government also recently passed laws to establish a silica worker register, to track and trace exposed workers and enable early intervention.

The New South Wales Government will be supporting a ban on engineered stone at the upcoming national meeting of Work Health and Safety ministers on 13 December and will act unilaterally if no agreement is made.

New South Wales Minister for Work Health and Safety, Sophie Cotsis, said that this campaign is to protect workers who may be exposed to the deadly risks of silica dust and will help ensure safer workplaces in the state.

“The New South Wales Government is committed to advocating for a nationally consistent ban on manufactured stone,” Ms Cotsis said. 

“Exposure to silica dust is an incredibly serious issue for workers in a range of industries and we must learn from the hard lessons of asbestos.”

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