A recent report from Safework NSW revealed industry-wide non-compliance and safety breaches at 187 of the 255 stone-manufacturing businesses operating since 2014. The majority of the inspections occurred between 2018 and 2019. More than 600 improvement and prohibition notices were issued. Since they were filed, companies have complied with 85 per cent of the notices.
In early 2019, SafeWork NSW inspectors discovered practices with a high potential risk of inhalation exposure to airborne hazardous chemicals at 21 work sites. They were each ordered to cease operations immediately.
The companies that received improvement and prohibition notices received them for failing to implement proper control measures to manage risk of hazardous chemical exposure. In addition, other companies had not effectively equipped workers with respiratory protective equipment.
The report comes right when silica dust has been causing problems for Australian companies. Both Ceasarstone and WK Quantum Quartz, two of the country’s most popular suppliers of quartz surfaces for kitchens and bathrooms, may soon be banned from Australia after failing to obtain insurance to cover the risk of silica-related lung diseases.
What these silica-related breaches mean to workers
When fabricators and installers dry-cut and polish the manufactured stone commonly used in bathroom vanities and kitchen benchtops, it exposes them to the silica dust. If inhaled, this silica dust lodges itself in the linings of the lungs. Long-term exposure can cause lung disease known as Silicosis. This linkage between silica dust and Silicosis has many calling it ‘the next asbestos’ due to the popularity of quartz across multiple industries and the severity of the risks it poses to workers.
The symptoms, which include shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue and dry coughing, can take anywhere from five to 30 years to manifest. There is no time limit to make a claim, but it must be made before the person dies.
While agencies like WorkSafe NSW are working hard on “raising awareness, interactions and research, and improving relevant legislation,” it may already be too late for some people.
Workers who have previously interacted with silica-based products or who have been diagnosed with Silicosis may be entitled to compensation. Contact the dust-related legal experts at Gerard Malouf & Partners to learn more about your rights.