The State Government is moving towards prohibiting the dry cutting of engineered stone following confirmation that workers have become ill as a result of the practice.
Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace has issued an urgent safety warning for workers and employers in Queensland’s engineered stone benchtop manufacturing industry.
“Any employer engaging in dry cutting of this product must stop immediately,” Ms Grace said.
“Enforcement action will be taken against any employer who fails to adequately protect their workers.
“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.
“I (have been) advised by senior officials from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and WorkCover Queensland that there has been a sudden spike in the number of confirmed cases of silicosis among 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, which is the end stage of the disease, and my heart goes out to all affected workers and their families.”
Ms Grace encouraged all workers in the industry, or those who have previously worked in the industry, to undergo urgent health screening.
She said the Government was working towards developing the necessary 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.
Any worker seeking information about safe work practices or health screenings, should call 1300 362 128 or visit www.worksafe.qld.gov.au