Dealing with silicosis in Australia
After Australia’s first death from silicosis, the country, companies and employees have come together to fight the problem of this life-threatening condition
In the past two years, Australia had its first reported fatality from silicosis. In response, the Australian government has been advocating for change and protection for fabricators. Silicosis is a form of occupational, non-reversible lung disease caused by inhalation of silica dust over a long period of time. Silica is a highly common, crystal-like mineral found in sand, rock, and quartz. It can have deadly consequences for people who work with stone, tile, concrete, glass, or other forms of rock.
“At this moment, the actual limit is 0.1 micrograms per cubic meter,” said Mark Moskwa, sales director of Top Notch Tools. “Recently, there has been another regulation around uncontrolled dry cutting on engineered stone cutting on jobsites that now bans it. It was implemented in Victoria in August and mandated on the first of November in 2019.”
In Australia, wet cutting has been around for quite a while, but the focus generally had been around the tile and natural stone industry. “Engineered stone is a little different,” said Moskwa. “Engineered stone is for kitchen countertops. What used to happen is the fabrication would be done in a manufacturing facility for residential or commercial buildings. They would achieve a close finish and then they would take the fabricated countertops to the jobsite to help shape it. Clearly, there wasn’t a lot of protection for workers there.”
Work Safe, the government agency that plays a role as the state’s health and safety regulator in the country, hired more inspectors to drive around and check each shop to make sure it is cutting safely. In the past eight to nine months, there were 129 reported cases of silicosis in Queensland, Australia alone. The youngest worker on record is 23 years old.
Moskwa has been working with iQ Power Tools to help solve the problem and pre-awareness to the silicosis situation. “I have been involved with iQ for the past few months,” said Moskwa. “Local business has been focusing on dust management. We are very much a manual workforce out here so introducing power tools that can manage dust and capture it has been extremely important to us. Right now, we are doing a ‘War on Dust Down Under.’ We have visited three cities in Australia and two in New Zealand. Every conversation we have had is around dust management. Our job right now is to raise awareness and protect workers on jobsites.”
Recently, Moskwa went to a summit in Melbourne, Australia, that featured Dr. Graham Edwards, a leading doctor for lung disease in Australia. “He is a very pragmatic person, but would speak quite widely and openly about the silicosis problem,” said Moskwa. “The summit had around 300 people, with 80 percent being from the medical profession. One of his statements that he made that I found interesting was that it is his belief that he feels silicosis will be, if it is not already, worst then asbestos. The reason being because it is already taking workers as young as 23, compared to asbestos that affected people later on. So we certainly have a long path in the next couple of years.”
Currently, the company has been using social media to raise awareness of the silica problem; mimicking the strong and highly successful “War on Dust” program initiated and strongly promoted here in the States by iQ Power Tools. “We are reaching out to a lot of dealers locally,” said Moskwa. “We are doing a lot of demos where we are talking to professional contractors about the machines that are available and the issue of silicosis. We are also working with the lung foundation in Australia. In the beginning, we reached out to them to see what they were doing about the dust, so we have developed that relationship with them. We are trying to be in front of as many people as possible so we can talk about the risks.