The Work Health and Safety regulators have revised workplace exposure standards for respirable crystalline silica and respirable coal dust.
Previously set at a time weighted average of 0.1 milligrams a cubic metre, the revision for respirable crystalline silica drops to a TWA of 0.05 mg/m3. Respirable coal dust will now have a TWA of 1.5 mg/m3.
This covers Cristobalite, Quartz, Silica – Crystalline, Tridymite and Tripoli. The revision also amended the advisory Carcinogen Category for Cristobalite, Quartz, SIlica – Crystalline, Tridymite and Tripoli to Carcinogen 1A.
Following publication of the consultation regulation impact statement, WHS ministers also conducted a six-week public consultation period. During this period, Safe Work Australia stated, “We received 31 submissions with valuable feedback from a range of stakeholders, including WHS regulators, government, industry and industry groups, unions, professionals and other interested or affected people.”
Individual governments will need to implement the revisions, and there is a three-year transitional period. The revised WES will apply from the 1st of October 2022. Victoria implemented it on the 17th of December 2019, while South Australia has plans to implement it on the 1st of July 2020.
How the revised WES will impact workers
A 2016 study showed that 6.4 per cent of Australian workers were exposed to respirable crystalline silica in 2012, while 3.7 per cent were highly exposed at work. Further, a recent report from WorkSafe NWS revealed silica-related work site breaches were prevalent across the state over the past five years.
Exposure to respirable crystalline silica can lead to Silicosis lung disease, while exposure to coal dust can cause hard metal pneumoconiosis. Both of which restrict lungs and lead to difficulty in breathing.
Regulations require that mining companies must monitor workers’ exposure to airborne chemicals if they don’t know if the standard has been exceeded or if they need to figure out if a health risk exists.
Moreover, companies are required to maintain 30 years’ worth of air-monitoring records and make them available to workers exposed to silica crystalline or coal dust.
While the new revised WES represents a smart step forward in mitigating risks for silica-based diseases, far too many people have been exposed to silica or coal dust already. If you think you have a claim, contact the expert legal team at Gerard Malouf & Partners to learn if you’re entitled to compensation.