Updates to NSW silica safety legislation

Updates to NSW silica safety legislation

In recent years, there have been significant updates to Australian safety legislation regarding the control and management of silica products in the workplace.

The most recent updates to the safety legislation, which is managed in Australia at a state level, were implemented in Victoria late last year. The legislation requires businesses across a range of industries, including construction, tunnelling and quarrying, to implement special training for employees, and any prospective employees, who might engage in “high-risk crystalline silica work”.

The provisions also require manufacturers and suppliers of product that contains crystalline silica to provide percentage statements and safe handling instructions, including exposure controls.

Other new provisions require manufacturers and suppliers of products containing crystalline silica to provide statements outlining the percentage of the hazardous substance in their products, along with information on safely handling them and exposure controls. The state has also increased the powers of WorkSafe inspectors when inspecting work sites that utilise silica-containing products.

The state accepted 73 compensation claims from workers in 2021 from workers with silica-related diseases due to workplace exposure and five claims involving deaths.

In NSW, the regulator notes that the ‘uncontrolled cutting, grinding or drilling of products or materials containing crystalline silica can generate hazardous levels of airborne dust. Breathing in this dust, usually over several years, leads to serious and fatal lung disease such as silicosis.’

It is also worth noting that in NSW and a number of other states across Australia, industrial manslaughter laws apply to both employers and PCBUs where there is a fatality from work-based silica exposure.

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