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Western Australia updates silica workplace exposure standards

 

The Western Australian Government has followed the lead of Australia’s eastern states to deliver new workplace exposure standards for silica and coal dust.

Due to a number of deadly lung diseases that may be caused by silica exposure, the WA Government is aiming to reduce the risk by halving the exposure limit.

Like the eastern states, the workplace exposure standard (WES) for respirable crystalline silica (RCS) in WA has now been halved to a time-weighted eight-hour average (TWA) of 0.05 milligrams per cubic metre (mg/m3). Previously the WES in most Australian states, in line with the harmonised Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011, was 1mg/m3.

RCS can be produced from mining, quarrying and mineral ore treatment processes, clay and stone processing machine operations, paving and surfacing, abrasive blasting and foundry casting, drilling, earthmoving and excavation operations, brick, concrete or stone cutting, and fabrication and installation of stone countertops.

“Silicosis is an emerging workplace health issue, and early intervention is the only solution to managing these risks,” WA’s Industrial Relations Minister Bill Johnston said.

“The changes in exposure standards are a win for workers … who now have the right to extra preventative measures for silicosis.

“WorkSafe’s inspection program has looked at more than 100 workplaces to ensure employers are aware of the risks from silica and their responsibilities under workplace safety laws.

“The McGowan Government takes prevention and early detection very seriously and is taking steps to minimise these risks. Employers must ensure the new limits are not exceeded.”

Coal dust reductions will also prevent coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, better known as “black lung disease”.

The revised WES for airborne contaminants to a TWA of 0.05mg/m3 was adopted by most jurisdictions on 1 July, 2020. Victoria was the earliest adopter, with the WES being revised on 17 December, 2019. Tasmania is yet to lower the WES from a TWA of 1mg/m3.

Work safety authorities in the ACT and Victoria recommend that while construction materials organisations should not exceed the TWA airborne concentration of 0.05mg/m3, they should be aiming to not expose workers to levels above 0.02mg/m3.

For information about RCS, including downloadable resources, visit the IQA website: quarry.com.au

More reading

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