WHSQ campaign to focus on silica dust

26 February 2018

WHSQ inspectors will soon commence a campaign that focusses on the risks associated with respirable crystalline silica (RCS).

RCS is a basic component of soil, sand, granite, and many other minerals. Quartz is the most common form of crystalline silica and is found in a range of building materials including:

  • Concrete & concrete products such as autoclaved aerated concrete (e.g. Hebel)
  • Fibre-cement sheeting
  • Bricks, blocks, tiles and pavers
  • Bagged materials such as cement, tile adhesive and mortar

RCS is the portion of dust that is too small to be seen under normal lighting, its size allows it to stay airborne for long periods of time, and it is easily inhaled deep into the lungs.

Exposure to RCS can lead to a range of respiratory diseases including silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer (RCS is a carcinogen). Silicosis is a serious and irreversible lung disease that causes permanent disablement and early death, and it is made worse by smoking. Silicosis is commonly caused from exposure to RCS over many years, but extremely high exposures across the short-term can cause it to develop rapidly

Typical RCS-generating processes within construction include:

  • Power tools (including scabblers, grinders, concrete floor polishers, saws, drills and rotary hammers) used on silica-containing materials
  • Mixing of concrete, adhesive or mortar using dry-bagged products.
  • Housekeeping involving dry sweeping, compressed air or blowers on dusts likely to contain
    silica.

WHSQ compliance programs to commence soon

The WHSQ campaign will focus on the risks associated with RCS and will initially target tier 1 and tier 2 builders workplaces.

Inspectors will especially consider the following contraventions of the Work Health Safety Regulation 2011:

  • Suitable engineering controls must be used to manage risks from RCS (e.g. water suppression or dust extraction are not used when they could be) WHSR s 351(1)
  • Dust extraction plant, if used, must be fit for purpose (e.g. h-class vacuums and/or dust extraction units) WHSR s351(1)
  • RPE must be supplied to workers performing tasks where they are exposed to RCS (in the absence of air monitoring evidencing that personal exposures do not exceed the exposure standard) – WHSR s351(1)
  • RPE (where supplied) must be:
    • Worn by workers – WHSR s44(2)
    • Suitable for the work and hazards ( at least P1 filtration) – WHSR s44(2)
    • A suitable fit (for example, tight-fitting respirators worn over beards) – WHSR s44(2)
    • Fit-tested for each worker – WHSR 44(2)
  • A safe work method statement for RCS work must be prepared in certain circumstances (construction work in an area that may have an atmosphere contaminated with RCS)  – WHSR s299(1)
  • Work must be done in compliance with safe work method statement – WHSR s300(2).

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