The Australian Financial Review (AFR) is a newspaper written for and about business, so worker safety and health is usually depicted as a nuisance to be addressed only when one absolutely must. However, its coverage of engineered stone products is notably skewed.
In 1984 I was in England during the miners’ strike, a period of profound social and political change in the United Kingdom. The politics of that period have always fascinated me, but my profession has also caused me to look at some of the attitudes to occupational health and safety (OHS). While holidaying recently in the UK, I purchased Backbone of the Nation, looking at both the politics and safety.
On December 29 2023, The Guardian newspaper’s cover story was about doctors in the United Kingdom’s National Health Service experiencing high rates of “moral distress”. It is common for hospitals and health care services to consider themselves as workplaces with unique hazards rather than suffering similar occupational health and safety (OHS) challenges to all other workplaces. What makes the OHS challenge so significant in the NHS is the size of the challenge rather than its nature or cause.
Engineered stone manufacturers are, understandably, not happy with Australia’s proposed ban on their silicosis-generating products. Some home builders have also expressed dissatisfaction. They are often ignoring the reason for the ban – the unnecessary deaths of workers – although at least one argument has merit.
In an article by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Caesarstone, the major supplier of engineered stone to Australia, identified what it sees as the real causes of silicosis risks:
The heads of Australian work health and safety authorities have decided to ban engineered stone from the middle of 2024. Some will seed this as a win for the trade union movement ( the unions certainly will), but many occupational health and safety and industrial hygiene professionals have been leading the way in obtaining the research evidence that made this decision such an easy one to make.
One of the most significant takeaways from the 23rd World Congress on Safety and Health at Work is Australia’s relative position of occupational health and safety (OHS) privilege. For instance, in the mining sector, Australian workers are rarely exposed to tuberculosis, HIV, silicosis and chemical exposure to the extent of similar workers in other countries. Instead, Australia has the comparative luxury of focusing on the psychosocial hazards associated with the fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workforce.
Last week, I was able to interview several speakers, sponsors and delegates at the 23rd World Congress on Safety and Health at Work, sometimes on behalf of the Congress and at other times privately. Some of these interviews were edited from forty-five minutes of content to ten. The interview with the Team Lead on Occupational Safety and Health at the International Labour Organization, Manal Azzi, available online, was once such. This SafetyAtWorkBlog article is the full, slightly edited, transcript of that interview.