Spotlight on NZ benchtop industry after Australian industry action

Spotlight on NZ benchtop industry after Australian industry action

New Zealand’s stone benchtop industry is in focus as authorities respond to the rising levels of lung disease among workers exposed to silica dust.

The NZ safety authority has issued more than 100 enforcement notices to businesses as concerns over the increasing levels of lung disease in Australian workers in the same industry.

WorkSafe NZ has released a safety alert and has, to date, inspected 150 businesses, mostly small organisations with fewer than six employees.

Chief Inspector Assessments Southern, Darren Handforth has explained that “we are seeing some immaturity in the understanding of the risks that need to be managed when cutting engineered benchtops,” he says.

A third of the workplaces investigated have been warned over their unsafe workplace practices, which included inadequate safety controls, the need for personal protective equipment and lacking health monitoring.

Of the workplaces investigated, 13 prohibition notices were issued.

 

Mr Handforth says around “45 to 60 people die every year from acute safety risks like falls from heights or being struck by a vehicle.”

“But what’s less well known is the 750 to 900 people who die every year from chronic work-related health risks, of which accelerated silicosis firmly fits within that sphere.”

As the industry grows with consumer demand, many businesses have implemented new wet cutting machinery to ensure workplace safety.

“We would actually expect people to be using wet cutting techniques. The use of water to dampen down the silica dust so it actually cannot be inhaled by the workers or what we call on-tool extraction of the machines that are actually cutting the benchtops,” Darren Handforth explains.

The subsidised or free medical testing available for Australian workers exposed to silica dust is yet to be implemented in New Zealand.

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