The construction industry is the third largest employing industry in Australia, with more than 1.6 million people working in the sector, according to the Australian Government. Stonemasons are just one sub-sector that fall under this category, with their duties centered around bricks and stones.
However, the popular task of cutting engineered stone benchtops is concerning medical experts and leaving officials calling for work legislation changes. But why?
Cleaning up rumours about silicosis
Silicosis (or accelerated silicosis) is a form of occupational and incurable lung disease caused by breathing in unsafe levels of silica dust. It's found within construction materials such as concrete, sandstone and bricks. When these materials are cut, silica particles are released into the air. Construction workers are among the most affected by this dust due to their duties that expose them to silica.
Cancer Australia estimates that 230 people develop lung cancer each year as a result of past exposure to silica dust at work. And now, a NSW Parliamentary inquiry has revealed that the potentially life-threatening disease is linked to newer engineered stone products used for bespoke kitchen and bathroom benchtops.
Why is silicosis so prevalent?
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge explained that the re-emergence of silicosis may be put down to a decline in the country's work health and safety standards.
"This is a disease that is 100 per cent preventable if we have safe workplaces, but attacks on union rights and the dismantling of state industrial inspectors has put lives at risk," he said.
However, all Australian workplaces must follow work health and safety laws to prevent the risk of injury – including dust inhalation-related incidents.
Health and safety obligations in NSW
Any employer operating in NSW has legal obligations under official work health and safety laws, otherwise known as the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW). Here, they must adhere to the Primary Duty of Care measures which state employers must provide and maintain a work environment that has no risks to health and safety.
Therefore, employers should work hard to reduce and remove exposure to hazards. The Royal Australasian College of Physicians has suggested that a review of dust control measures, respiratory health assessments and the banning of dry-cutting techniques need to take place. These measures are the just the tip of the iceberg if the country wants to see any improvement of the silicosis epidemic.
As employers have a duty of care to reduce the risk of injury for workers, those affected by harm or disease, such as silicosis, are entitled to submit a claim for workers compensation. If you're ready to review your rights, get in touch with the team at Gerard Malouf & Partners today.