Safety warning issued for workers in engineered stone benchtop industry

The Queensland Government has issued an urgent safety warning for workers and employers in the engineered stone benchtop manufacturing industry after 26 workers’ compensation claims for silicosis were lodged to WorkCover.

Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace said any employer engaging in dry cutting of this product must stop immediately.

“Enforcement action will be taken against any employer who fails to adequately to protect its workers,” Ms. Grace said.

“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 current and prior workers 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.

“We are working towards developing the necessary explicit regulations to prohibit dry cutting of stone, along with a Code of Practice for the Queensland industry, which will be finalised as soon as possible.

“I have also written to the Federal Minister, Kelly O’Dwyer, to alert the Federal Government of the seriousness of this issue and the need for a national response.”

Ms Grace said there was no need for homeowners with engineered stone benchtops to be concerned, as the risk only arises when the product is cut, grinded or polished while dry.

Any worker seeking information about safe work practices or health screenings, should contact 1300 362 128 or visit www.worksafe.qld.gov.au.

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