Australian Greens push for ban on engineered stone to eliminate silicosis risks

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Greens MPs in Australia are increasing the political pressure to ban engineered stone from Australia because of the difficulty in eliminating silicosis risks.

On October 18, 2019, Greens MP David Shoebridge released a statement calling for the ban. Greens MP in South Australia Tammy Franks spoke in Parliament on October 16 2019, also calling for a ban on engineered stone. This and other action from other Members of Parliament are in response to inaction on the national level, partly due to occupational health and safety (OHS) being regulated by the States rather than the Commonwealth.

But as with the current controversy of thoroughbred horses being killed for export and pet food, the Federal Government is in charge of exports and imports, so could make the decision to stop imports of engineered stone. It is not as if there are not safer substitutes

The Greens in Western Australia have not called for a ban but have supported a reduced exposure standard.

David Shoebridge MP

Shoebridge was responding to reports in The Australian ($) about New South Wales government plans to reduce silicosis risks, saying they:

  • Do not remove the risk of silicosis by banning the use of manufactured stone
  • Fail to expressly ban dry cutting, which is the most dangerous way in which the product is currently used
  • Will not prevent workers in the industry being exposed to potentially lethal silica dust with even the reduced exposure standard not being implemented for three years, and
  • Fail to put in place the right screening to identify cases of silicosis as early as possible.

Tammy Franks asked the Minister for Industrial Relations and Treasurer Rob Lucas, about government action on silicosis risks in Parliament on 16 October, 2019 (video available). Curiously, Lucas indicated that an Italian manufacturer of engineered stone is producing a version with a much reduced silica content, so imports could continue but of a safer product.

More on the science behind the politics next week when SafetyAtWorkBlog reports from the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine in Adelaide.

Kevin Jones

Business Leaders hear about the Vic Government’s OHS achievements, and about OHS is the Arts

Cameron Ling and Claire Spencer (top) and Natalie Hutchins (below)

October is Australia’s workplace safety month. It operates under different names in different States, but they all started on October 1 2019. These months are almost exclusively about marketing and SafetyAtWorkBlog’s Inbox has received a lot of generic statements about the importance of occupational health and safety (OHS) but with little information about how to improve it. The best we can do about this is to seek knowledge in some of the physical events and seminars scheduled during October.

On October 2 2019, WorkSafe Victoria held a Business Leader’s Breakfast at which there were two featured speakers – the Parliamentary Secretary for Workplace Safety, Natalie Hutchins, and the CEO of Arts Centre Melbourne, Claire Spencer. Hutchins spoke about the occupational health and safety achievements of the Victorian Government and Spencer spoke about the significance of the Arts Wellbeing Collective. They provided a good mix of politics and practice.

Hutchins spoke about

  • Silicosis
  • Hazardous Chemicals and Dangerous Goods
  • Workplace Manslaughter Laws, and
  • Mental Health.
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Talk business, talk safety

Successful management of occupational health and safety (OHS) requires reciprocal, active dialogues between workers and their managers. In OHS terms this is Consultation. To provide some structure to that consultation, it is becoming more common to designate some workers as “Safety Champions”.

This October, Safe Work Australia is promoting its National Safe Work Month urging everyone to be a “Safety Champion”. This is more about the act of championing safety than having a Safety Champion title. In the past, SWA has used alternate terms such as “Safety Ambassador” but it still struggles to enliven the conversations about OHS in workplaces, partly because of its passive messaging.

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Interesting but not representative

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) released the results of its latest occupational health and safety (OHS) survey. In past surveys respondents have been trade union members. This survey was opened to non-union members, but to what extent is unclear but this has not stopped the ACTU speaking of the respondents as workers rather than workers who are all union members.

This differentiation is important. In the 1990s when union membership was much larger, the argument that the survey results were representative of Australia’s workforce was stronger although still debatable. Representation is harder to claim now with union membership being well below 20% overall and below 10% in the private sector.

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“… merchants of doubt and experts in distorting the truth…”

The Weekly Times newspaper has provided strong coverage of the arguments about quad bike safety for many years, especially, through the work of Fiona Myers and Peter Hunt. The June 19, 2019 edition devoted its front page, page 4, an opinion piece and a cartoon to the objection by the quad bike manufacturers to Operator Protection Devices (OPDs). One of the benefits of long-term media coverage is that changed positions, or hypocrisy, can be shown and this is what Hunt did on 19 June.

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