WorkSafe Victoria Silicosis Summit: A preventative approach

By on April 7, 2020

BRIAN CALOVIC, Health Safety & Environmental Manager for Conundrum Holdings Pty Ltd reports on Worksafe Victoria’s Silicosis Summit.

Approximately 600 people from engineered stone, tunnel project and earth resources industry attended the Worksafe Victoria Silicosis Summit.

Mr Colin Radford CEO Worksafe Victoria identified a common goal to stamp out silicosis. The majority of reported cases are male stonemasons in their 30-40s. Mr Radford’s message was clear. “Congratulations to those taking measures to comply and those that don’t, Worksafe are coming after you.

It is too late for a cure once symptoms present themselves, only management and support of affected persons is possible. As many as 4 out of 5 engineered stone workers are at risk of silicosis related disease. Of the 3500 employees in the quarry sector, eight silicosis cases have been reported.

The summit focus was defined as the engineered stone silicosis epidemic. The expert panels included professors, doctors, hygienist, union reps and regulators from across the country.

There is a lot of fear and uncertainty around the silicosis issue. Knowledge is still being gathered and adjustments are being made as a reactive approach.

2018 was the start of the epidemic. Workers would have been protected if standards were enforced.

  • No silica case has been reported by a compliant workplace not even with the exposure standard 4x higher than the current Australian Standard.
  • The system has failed in early detection.
  • Common stonemason statistics are either no PPE, or limited use of adequate PPE.
  • Dry cutting was common and most important, health monitoring was non-existent in all cases shown.
  • Australian College of Radiology recommends CT scans as the most effective form of imaging. Frequency of screening is 5 years for CT.
  • Primary respiratory functions (Pharynx, Larynx, Trachea, Bronchus) are compromised by smoking increasing the risk of respirable particles lodging in the lower lung Alveolus (air sack) and leading to lung disease.
  • A high percentage of autoimmune disease in males is also linked with workplaces that have Respirable Crystalline Silica Dust (RCSD).

We would not have the epidemic today if we enforced compliance 20 years ago.

Health monitoring is paramount for early detection to protect against the fatal component of the disease. SWA has released a new guide for Medical Practitioners. You will need a suitably qualified medical practitioner/specialist.

A strategic approach to a national disease registry needs to be implemented with a national approach to detect and respond to future diseases of significance.

Three groups need buttons pushed.

  • People already exposed need health monitoring programs.
  • People entering industry need legislative reform.
  • Medical professionals need support.

Worksafe representation was about prevention and management of people affected by this illness, including family, friends, workmates and the employer dealing with an employee illness of this nature.

The earth resources session was held in the afternoon with approximately 100 attendees.

Dedicated teams are targeting quarries crushing and screening

  • Wind/secondary pick up
  • Inhalable dust
  • Respirable dust
  • Diesel particulates

The earth resources session may have missed an opportunity to work with stake holders. Talks may have been more positively encouraged by discussing working as a collective to address the issues and protect the employer and the employee.

As mentioned at the beginning of day by Mr Radford we have a common goal to stamp out silicosis.

The experience in the room may have contributed to what is required in a FAQs sheet.

  • How should exceedance be managed?
  • Is PPE accepted as a control?
  • What new technology is available?
  • Links to B readers
  • Guidance to health screening

The use of a phone app to post questions controlled the emotion of the subject and left many of the ‘hard’ questions unanswered.

Regulators across the country have to accept some responsibility for not enforcing safe work practices.

Why has dry cutting been allowed to go on for so long?

This is primarily an issue with the engineered stone industry that has been made into a silica industry issue.

Why are extractive industries not offered the same support such as free health monitoring, access to specialist and mental health support?

It is hard not to feel emotional seeing the devastation to especially young people’s lives.

More data and evidence need to be gathered before decisions are made on exposure standards, control measures, management of affected people and development of technology that can reduce the risks. Setting an unachievable limit will only see more common non-compliance even with best practice controls in place.

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