Dust clouds on kitchen benchtops

The Victorian Premier, the Minister for Workplace Safety, Dr Ryan Hoy and others at the silicosis announcement

The Victorian Government has announced that various safety initiatives are being taken on the silicosis risks associated with products described as synthetic stone. This initiative is an important first step in reducing the exposure of workers to silicosis but there are some curiosities in the announcement and WorkSafe Victoria’s accompanying Information Sheet.

The core elements of the government’s action are:

  • “A state-wide ban on uncontrolled dry cutting of materials that contain crystalline silica dust
  • Free health screening for Victoria’s 1400 stonemasons
  • A tough new compliance code for businesses working with silica
  • An awareness campaign to highlight the risks of working with engineered stone”.
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The biggest OHS challenge is greed

As the world approaches World Day for Safety and Health at Work and International Workers Memorial Day this coming Sunday it is worth reminding ourselves of some of the immorality that unregulated Capitalism allows. A company in one of the last remaining exporters of asbestos, Russia, has used President Donald Trump’s words and image to support its production and export of asbestos*, a product known for over a century to cause fatal illnesses.

Why is asbestos still mind if the evidence of its fatality is incontrovertible? Greed, or as it has been called in the past – “good business sense”. Many authors have written about the history of asbestos globally and locally. Many have written about the injustice in denying victims compensation from exposure to a known harmful chemical. But few have written about the core support for asbestos production, export and sale – Greed.

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By looking at the silicosis tree, we might miss the forest of dust

Rumours of a TV report on the increasing hazards of silicosis have floated around for a week or so.  On October 10 2018, the show appeared on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s 7.30 program.  But the story is much bigger than the ten minutes or so on that program.

The focus is understandably on silica but perhaps that is too specific.  Maybe the issue of dust, in general, needs more attention.

However,

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Glyphosate presents an OHS problem but maybe OHS is the path to a solution

Occupational health and safety (OHS) related decisions are made on the state of knowledge about hazards and it is up to OHS people to make sure the state of knowledge is at its best so that the best decisions can be made.  But what do you do if the state of knowledge on a hazard seems to be made purposely uncertain and that uncertainty is leading to the status quo, which also happens to provide a huge income for the owner of the product creating the hazard.

This seems to be a situation at the moment in Australia in relation to the use of the weedkiller, glyphosate, marketed heavily by the global chemical company, Monsanto.  The alleged corruption of data on which OHS people and workers base their safety decisions was perhaps one of the most disturbing elements of the recent ABC Four Corners program on the chemical (

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Workers’ Inferno

Recently the 20th anniversary of the Esso Longford disaster was commemorated in Victoria. Coinciding with this anniversary was the release of a book about the disaster and its personal aftermath, Workers’ Inferno, written by Ramsina Lee.

This book has been in development for many, many years and the Lee’s writing talent is on display in the structure of the book and the stories within.  These stories largely linear But the multiple strands allow Lee to jump from one to the other providing a variety tone.

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