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Navigating Crystalline Silica Regulations: Compliance Guidelines for Industries 

24/05/2024by admin0Read: 8 minutes

As the importance of workplace safety and health continues to grow, understanding and adhering to regulations surrounding crystalline silica is paramount for industries working with this substance. Ensuring compliance with crystalline silica regulations is crucial for these organisations.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the key compliance guidelines, best practices, and essential steps to ensure a safe and compliant environment for workers and businesses alike. Join us as we delve into the intricacies of crystalline silica regulations and provide valuable insights to help your industry thrive while prioritising safety.

Silica Dust Laws and Regulations in Australia and NSW

We have encapsulated all the relevant silica dust laws and regulations, and any amendments done etc for Australia and NSW:

1) Workplace Exposure Standard (WES)

A WES is the amount of an airborne hazardous chemical (such as respirable crystalline silica) that is present in a worker’s breathing zone but is not expected to endanger their health. Commonwealth, state, and territory WHS legislation demands compliance with the WES.

This implies that during the course of an eight-hour workday and a five-day workweek, your employees must not be exposed to silica dust levels of more than 0.05 mg/m3.

In order to ensure that the WES for silica dust is not exceeded, if you are a person running a company or project (such as an employer or small business owner), you may need to put extra control measures in place or alter your working practises.

In order to protect employees’ health and prevent harmful consequences like silicosis and lung cancer, the WES should be decreased, according to a health-based analysis of the available scientific data for silica dust.

Every state, every territory, and the Commonwealth now use the reduced WES. As soon as the new WES is put into effect in your jurisdiction, you must abide by them. The adjustment becomes effective for the majority of jurisdictions on July 1, 2020.

2) New silica dust regulations for WHS ACT

The Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulation 2011 has been amended in response to comments from the industry.

According to the new amendment, silica management measures must be taken into account as a minimum for silica dust. These consist of:

  1. Wet dust suppression, uses a variety of wet techniques, including misting, spraying, misting, foaming, pastes, and fluids other than water.
  2. keeping the workers handling silica dust separate from others.
  3. respiratory protection equipment (RPE).
  4. local exhaust ventilation.
  5. tool dust extraction.

If you are unable to eradicate silica dust from your job by November 1, 2022:

  1. When changing engineered stone, you must have a continuous flow of water over the cutting area in addition to one additional silica control method and RPE.
  2. You need to do the following when changing silica-containing materials (other than manufactured stone):
  3. Run a constant supply of water over the cutting site.
  4. If this is not possible, use a dust suppression method plus one other silica control measure.
  5. If this is not possible, use on-tool dust extraction plus one other silica control measure.
  6. If this is not feasible, use a wet suppression method, on-tool extraction, or a fully enclosed cabin. And if this is not reasonably possible, use one silica control measure.

Non-compliance can amount to infringement of laws and regulations.

  1. For engineered stone, at least one additional silica control method must be included in addition to a continuous water flow
  2. At least one silica control measure should be in place for SCM.

For people who work with crystalline silica materials, the ACT mandates training.

The Declaration for Workplace Health and Safety (Crystalline Silica Awareness Training Course and Occupations) 2022 began in July 2022. All employees in the designated occupations and those who might reasonably be expected to be exposed to airborne silica dust while doing their jobs are required to complete the 10830NAT – Course in Crystalline Silica Exposure Prevention by July 1, 2023.

3) Model Work Health And Safety Regulations (Engineered Stone) Amendment 2023 

The Parliamentary Counsel’s Committee modified the Model Work Health and Safety Regulations.

The Safe Work Australia Members’ decision to alter the model WHS Regulations to clearly forbid the uncontrolled processing of engineered stone products takes effect as of 2023 thanks to the Model Work Health and Safety Regulations Engineered Stone) Amendment.

The Model Work Health and Safety Regulations (Engineered Stone) Amendment 2023 also updates references to specific Australian Standards in the model WHS Regulations.

The unregulated processing of engineered stone products is expressly forbidden under the Model Work Health and Safety Regulations (Engineered Stone) Amendment 2023. The modifications reflect the current obligation on persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) to remove hazards to the health and safety of employees from engineered stone and, if that is not reasonably possible, to mitigate the risks to the greatest extent reasonably practical.

A PCBU would not be upholding their primary duty of care if they allowed the unregulated processing of engineered stone, and the model WHS Regulations currently expressly forbid such behaviour.

4) Background of Amendment for Engineered Stone and Ban

In 2019, the National Dust Diseases Taskforce (NDDT) was tasked with developing a national approach to the prevention, early identification, control and management of occupational dust diseases in Australia.

Given the operation of section 19 of the model Work Health and Safety Act and regulation 49 of the WHS Regulations, it is likely that a PCBU that allowed workers to undertake dry cutting (and other uncontrolled processes) of engineered stone would be in breach of the WHS laws because of the risks to the health and safety of workers associated with workplace exposure to respirable crystalline silica.

However, in August 2021, Safe Work Australia Members agreed to amend the model WHS Regulations to expressly prohibit the uncontrolled processing of engineered stone products to ensure clarity and certainty for PCBUs and workers concerning engineered stone use.

However, in the course of the review, Safe Work Australia identified that several Standards referred to in the Regulations were out-of-date and that the Regulations needed to be amended to refer to the latest Standard.

Moving further, recently WHS ministers have given a green signal to ban engineered stone usage in industries. Australia will ban the use, supply and manufacturing of engineered stone under work health and safety laws. The ban will commence on 1 July 2024 and will be applicable to engineered stone benchtops, slabs and panels.

5) Details of the Model Work Health and Safety Regulations (Engineered Stone) Amendment 2023 – Model Provisions

Regulation 1 – Name of model provisions

The Model Work Health and Safety Regulations (Engineered Stone) Amendment 2023 contains the model regulations.

Regulation 2 – Amendment of the Model Regulations

The model WHS Regulations are to be amended, according to this regulation.

Regulation 5 – Conditions of licence   Regulation 91A

This rule substitutes “give” for “given” in regulation 91A(3) to fix a typographical error.

Regulation 8 – Processing engineered stone containing crystalline silica   New Part 4.9

With the implementation of this rule, a new Part 4.9 including regulation 184A regarding the unregulated processing of engineered stone will be added.

According to Regulation 184A(1), processing, directing, or allowing a worker to process engineered stone without particular control procedures is illegal for PBCUs.

For violating rule 184A(1), the maximum fine is $6,000 for an individual and $30,000 for a corporate body.

According to Regulation 184A(2), the processing of engineered stone is subject to control if at least one of the following systems is employed:

  1. a water distribution system that continuously sprays water over the area being cut to reduce dust production.
  2. an on-tool extraction system, which usually consists of a shroud, a hose attachment, and a vacuum extraction system.
  3. a system for local exhaust ventilation. The model Code of Practise: Managing the Risks of Respirable Crystalline Silica from Engineered Stone in the Workplace provides guidance on local exhaust ventilation.

For the processing of engineered stone to be managed, respiratory protection equipment must be made available to all employees.

Respiratory safety gear is characterised as personal safety gear that:

  1. is formulated to keep someone wearing it from breathing airborne pollutants.
  2. is Compliant with the applicable Australian Standard.

Engineered stone is a man-made substance that contains crystalline silica, is made by mixing natural stone materials with other chemical components, and goes through a procedure to become hardened, according to Regulation 184A(3). However, bricks, pavers, and other like blocks, ceramic and porcelain wall and floor tiles, roof tiles, grout, mortar, and render, as well as plasterboard, are not considered to be engineered stone.

Using power tools or another type of mechanical plant, the processing is referred to in connection to engineered stone as cutting, grinding, trimming, sanding, abrasive polishing, and drilling.

The use of personal protective equipment, including respiratory protective equipment, is covered under rules 44 and 46, according to the note to the regulation.

These laws cover both the responsibilities of employees who receive personal protective equipment from a PCBU, including the equipment’s appropriateness, maintenance, and usage, as well as the provision of such equipment to workers by PCBUs.

6) Silica Dust Code of Practice for the Construction Industry 

On May 1, 2023, Queensland will implement Australia’s first silica dust code of practice for the building sector. It applies to all construction projects as well as the production of building materials including concrete, mortar, bricks, blocks, and tiles.

The regulation offers helpful advice on shielding employees from crystalline silica exposure. This may be accomplished by employing tried-and-true silica dust management techniques, such as water suppression and on-tool dust extraction, to stop silica dust from being created or discharged into the atmosphere.

The following are also recommended by the code:

  1. Appropriate protective gear
  2. Air monitoring to see whether dust control is working.

Consultation, supervision, education, training, and directions are all included in health monitoring.

7) NSW Dust Strategy

The NSW Dust Strategy is another important regulation to curb harm caused by silica dust exposure.

a) Purpose Of Strategy: 

To safeguard employees from disease, injury, and death, a coordinated strategy must be used for the safe handling of hazardous dust, including asbestos, silica, wood, and other dust.

b) Aim: 

By coordinating important preventative measures and consistently disseminating best-practice guidance and regulations, employees are protected from exposure to harmful dust. Asbestos, Silica, Wood, And Other Dust Areas.

By offering employees and employers a coordinated strategy for the safe management of hazardous dust, including asbestos, silica, and wood, the NSW Dust Strategy seeks to avoid occupational illnesses.

The inhalation of dust such as asbestos, silica, wood, and other particles can cause harm and even death.

Identify the hazard, handle it safely, and dispose of it responsibly:

  1. Use straightforward measures, such as water and dust capture gear, while dealing with silica.
  2. use the appropriate personal protective gear, such as a face mask that is properly fitted.

The NSW Dust Strategy offers SafeWork NSW and the industry a coordinated strategy to:

  1. Manage current and prospective dust-related harms by following three key criteria that apply to all dust:
  2. hazard identification.
  3. handle it safely.
  4. Dispose of responsibly
  5. Workers may be informed about dust exposure by constant communication of best-practice safety measures for various dust kinds and job activities.
  6. Dust exposure can be prevented through compliance, regulation, awareness, and education.

c) Area of Focus – Silica

  1. building trades
  2. manufactured stone
  3. tunnelling and infrastructure.
  4. foundries
  5. manufacturing
  6. landscaping Significant increase in silicosis cases since 2017

NSW Chemicals Strategy 2017-2022

NSW Building & Construction WHS Sector Plan NSW Manufacturing WHS Sector Plan

d) Objective

  1. fulfil the goals of the WHS Roadmap.
  2. Secure Conformity.
  3. Support and provide groundbreaking research.
  4. Give advice on how to control dust.
  5. Work along with the stakeholders.

The NSW Dust Strategy 2020-2022 coordinates SafeWork NSW’s dust exposure prevention activities, ensuring consistent application of best practice principles and controls relevant to different dust types.

The complexity of disease-related harms includes long latencies, conflicting attitudes and beliefs, complex regulations and competing for priorities in the workplace with more immediate risks to safety. These challenges require a customer-centred and multi-pronged response.

e) Compliance 

  1. 9,000 transactions in the context of the Hazardous Chemicals Roadmap Project, silica being a chemical with the highest importance.
  2. Improved model WHS laws, which reduced WES by 50% to 0.05 mg/m3.
  3. On-the-spot penalties for manufacturing stone dry-cutting that is not under control.
  4. Silicosis is a condition that must be reported.
  5. Fines are levied immediately on PCBUs who fail to disclose an unfavourable health monitoring report. Knowledge and Instruction
  6. Industry-specific mass media initiatives.
  7. Silica symposiums, roadshows, and events in your area.
  8. Video Safety Alerts (with language translations and movies tailored to certain tasks or controls).
  9. Small company tax credit of $500.
  10. Workgroup for Silica Infrastructure.
  11. World-class investigation into silica dust detectors that operate in real-time.

f) Air Monitoring: 

For personnel exposed to silica/wood dust, personal air monitoring is recommended.

g) Health Monitoring: 

Every two years asbestos removers and asbestos assessors, and on a frequent basis if silica exposure offers a serious health risk.

So, these were the silica dust regulations for businesses and individuals to comply with.

For more information and to get notifications on the latest silica dust regulations and laws for Australia and NSW, stay tuned to the Anitech website

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