The business sector of Australia has been remarkably quiet on the recent media attention given to hazard of silicosis in, particularly, the synthetic stone commonly used as kitchen benchtops. However the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) did make a media statement.
It largely emphasised its role as a member of Safe Work Australia and the action taken on silicosis matters through that mechanism. However membership of a tripartite consultative mechanism does not mean that that is the only pathway for change. SafetyAtWorkBlog put some questions to ACCI about silicosis and its Associate Director, Work Health & Safety and Workers’ Compensation Policy, Jennifer Low, responded:
SAWB: The media statement says that ACCI will continue to be active through its representation on Safe Work Australia. Are there any specific dust-related initiatives that ACCI is recommending to its members? Perhaps in relation to supply chain safety on high silica-content products?
ACCI: A number of our members in impacted industries have been considering actions. Our focus is providing members with regular updates on what jurisdictions are doing and advising, as well as the work of SWA (such as the recent VSS series on silica). As our statement noted we are actively involved in consultation through SWA and engage our wider network for their views and feedback as we progress the agreed work plan.
SAWB: There is a push in Australia to substantially reduce the official exposure level in standards, regulations and guidances. Is ACCI in favour of such a move? Do you foresee any cost or product quality impediments to reducing the exposure level?
ACCI: The awareness of official exposure standards across small business in particular is anecdotally low however; we find that our employer members do more than minimum compliance. The approach is very much either a hazard is present and they need to control it or it’s not present. They aren’t looking at ‘how much’ of a hazard is present and what is acceptable. The use of higher-level controls are promoted wherever possible.
The Australian Chamber is awaiting the outcome of the current review of WES. Where research has established there should be a change to WES and our members have been consulted and had an opportunity to evaluate this they are generally supportive of any changes that will ensure a reduction of risk. We saw this with the support of lead levels.
There is already legislation to address silicosis risk. What is needed is more awareness, practical guidance and research. Part of the research and evaluation needed is to determine the most appropriate methods of reducing exposure and translating this into practical guidance for business.
SAWB: Does ACCI have any members who manufacture or use the high-silica benchtops and products that have been getting specific attention over the last week or so? If so, have they put forward suggestions for improving safety of these products?
ACCI: Our construction and manufacturing members impacted have been seeking further information and advice for their employers for some months now and are trying to ensure they can provide as much practical guidance and support as possible.
SAWB: Dr Ryan Hoy told the ANZSOM conference last week that current PPE products are ineffective and that even wetcutting of these high-silica products produces unsafe, ie above recommended exposure standards, levels of silica to workers and those in proximity of the cutting. Would ACCI be willing to advocate for the prohibition of dry cutting of these high-silica products?
ACCI: What is needed is an evaluation of all the current controls and combination of controls (as it is often a combination of controls that has the most effect). Any policy decisions need to be made with current and well-evidenced research.