There are significant health risks caused by exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) for workers in engineered stone benchtop manufacturing, finishing and installation industries. Any company engaging in dry cutting of this product must stop immediately or enforcement action will be taken.
Workers may be exposed to crystalline silica while cutting, grinding, sanding and polishing stone benchtops and during the installation process. Generally though, exposure to RCS occurs during manufacture of the stone benchtop rather than during installation due to less cuts and fabrication taking place.
Workers installing stone benchtops which have been completely fabricated in a workshop with no additional cutting or fabrication required on site should have minimal exposure to RCS compared to workers involved in fabrication. Where no cutting, grinding, sanding or polishing of the benchtop occurs during installation then no RCS should be released.
Similarly, stone benchtops which have already been installed do not represent a risk to health unless they are cut, ground, sanded or polished.
Accumulated exposure to RCS can cause very serious and debilitating health effects, including silicosis. Silicosis is an aggressive form of pneumoconiosis – a debilitating respiratory disease – which can be fatal.
The safety alert was issued after recent compliance audits of ten engineered stone benchtop manufacturers uncovered disturbing and unsafe work practices – including dry cutting of stone, poor ventilation of work areas and a lack of respiratory protective equipment. Health monitoring of workers at these sites returned multiple positive silicosis diagnoses.
All workers in the industry, or those who have previously worked in the industry, are encouraged to undergo urgent health screening. WorkCover Queensland has announced it 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.
A state-wide compliance campaign is now underway and by the end of the year all engineered stone benchtop fabrication workshops in Queensland will have been audited.
A comprehensive guide for industry and workers, and the safety alert are published to worksafe.qld.gov.au.
Any worker seeking information about safe work practices or health screenings, should contact 1300 362 128 or visit www.worksafe.qld.gov.au.