NSW Dust Diseases Scheme Submission (2021)
AIOH members measure dust and chemical exposures so as to determine the effectiveness of work practices and controls to protect worker health and prevent occupational disease. Occupational hygienists work closely with other health professionals working in health surveillance and worker’s compensation.
The AIOH recognises the necessity for compensation, health surveillance and a dust disease registry and supports these functions. However, we are firmly of the view that these are after the event actions and primacy must be given to preventative actions.
The profession of occupational hygiene is focused on prevention of occupational illness and disease by applying a range of assessment tools. We know from our experience in the field testing that the most effective way of tackling silicosis is to prevent exposure to silica dust.
The prevention of silicosis is well known and regulated, and yet workers have suffered mainly in our experience because of the failure of compliance with standard dust control protocols. As professionals we need to re-energise the preventative strategies including getting occupational hygienists into all workplaces, large and small.
We note that significant improvements have been made in New South Wales (NSW) since the 2019 review of the Dust Diseases Scheme. Most notable is the establishment of the NSW Dust Disease Register on 1 July 2020, the reduction of the Workplace Exposure Standard (WES) for respirable crystalline silica (RCS), and the introduction of amended Work Health and Safety (WHS) regulations.
However, we recognise that the epidemic of silicosis in engineered stone workers has been a failure of WHS systems to protect worker health. This is not a new phenomenon as historic studies record large scale and widespread cases of silicosis in tunnelling, stone masonry, sand blasting and other industries in the 1920’s -1950’s. In essence, that was why the NSW Silicosis Board (later named the NSW Dust Diseases Board) was instigated. Both historic and contemporary situations demonstrate a failure of mechanisms to identify new and emerging issues in Australia. Moreover, non-compliance with the WES and lack of compliance with WHS regulations has demonstrated significant regulatory weaknesses in Australia. Based on the information available, there is no evidence to suggest that the rate of compliance activities has increased since the last review of the dust diseases scheme.
The AIOH remains concerned that the true magnitude of silica-related diseases in a wide range of silica using/generating industries in NSW is under-represented, and the experience of our members is that the level of compliance with WHS regulations, and therefore protections for workers, remains low.
The AIOH would be very happy to nominate a representative to give evidence in person at a public hearing.
© 2022 Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists, Inc. ® | PO Box 2124, Gladstone Park VIC 3043 | ABN 50 423 289 752
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