Queensland government industrial relations Minister Grace Grace has issued an urgent safety warning for Queensland’s engineered stone benchtop manufacturing industry after an increase in confirmed cases of silicosis.
Ms Grace has reinforced that dry cutting of engineered stone is prohibited.
“Any employer engaging in dry cutting of this product must stop immediately,” Ms Grace warns.
“Enforcement action will be taken against any employer who fails to adequately to protect its workers.
“Due to the high levels of silica in engineered stone, which can be breathed in as dust when cut dry, it is absolutely paramount that this warning is taken seriously.
“Last night I was advised by senior officials from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) and WorkCover Queensland that there has been a sudden spike in the number of confirmed cases of silicosis for workers in this industry.
“Silicosis is an aggressive form of pneumoconiosis – a debilitating respiratory disease – which can be fatal.
“WHSQ recently conducted a compliance campaign involving an audit of 10 engineered stone benchtop manufacturers which uncovered disturbing and unsafe work practices – including dry cutting of stone, poor ventilation of work areas and a lack of personal protection equipment.”
Ms Grace said the audits also included health checks for workers.
“To date, WorkCover Queensland has received 26 workers’ compensation claims for silicosis, including 22 claims lodged within the past three weeks,” she said.
“Tragically, at least six of the confirmed cases have Progressive Massive Fibrosis (PMF), which is the end stage of the disease. My heart goes out to all affected workers and their families.”
Ms Grace encouraged all workers in the industry, or those who have previously worked in the industry, to undergo urgent health screening.
“WorkCover Queensland will fund the immediate health screening for workers, or former workers, who have been exposed to silica from engineered stone over an extended period of time”, she said.
“WHSQ will also immediately progress to the next stage of its state-wide compliance campaign, with 22 specially-trained inspectors on the ground from this week, auditing all remaining engineered stone benchtop makers across the state. By the end of the year all 160 employers in Queensland will have been audited.
“An industry safety alert and comprehensive guide for industry and workers has also been released today.