The potentially deadly respiratory disease silicosis, caused by the inhalation of dangerous dust created in cutting or drilling stone, has received intense legislative attention in recent months. Even as they've been grappling with battling against that other respiratory condition, COVID-19, state parliaments around Australia have sought preventive measures for silicosis. With the introduction of a New South Wales law, the state has vaulted to the head of the pack in dust disease efforts.
In the government release announcing the impending start of the NSW Silicosis Education Strategy, lawmakers stated that their reforms are the most complete this far seen anywhere in Australia. Under the new rules, silicosis has scheduled condition status, which means doctors can now report cases to NSW Health and SafeWork NSW.
In addition to giving scheduled status to the dust disease, the new strategy also includes a tightening of the exposure standard. While there was already a minimum exposure standard – 0.1mg/m3 – the new amount is significantly lower, at 0.05mg/m3, averaged over eight hours. There will be nationally mandated revisions to bring national levels to this amount two years in the future, but the NSW Government has pointed out that it is introducing the standard far ahead of schedule.
Since uncontrolled dry cutting and grinding of manufactured stone have been identified as major causes of silicosis, both processes are now banned in NSW. Companies that persist in using these methods are at risk of incurring fines of up to $30,000. SafeWork, NSW Health and companies in the manufactured stone industry all collaborated on this round of silicosis prevention legislation.
The silicosis exposure issues that made NSW legislators take action were more than hypothetical. A Sydney Morning Herald report from earlier this year revealed that in just half of one fiscal year, 70 new cases of the dust disease emerged in NSW. While doctors did note that the increase in silicosis detection was boosted by more active testing, the basic fact remained: Far too many workers in the state were coming down with this dangerous condition. Legislators deemed the disease preventable and took action to end it, bringing on the latest round of tightened regulation.
If you are one of the workers who has begun suffering from a dust disease due to exposure in the workplace, you may have grounds to make a claim for compensation. To consult with Gerard Malouf & Partners' legal experts about your claim's potential success and next steps, call 1 800 004 878 or email your enquiry.