Focus on correct PPE as silica exposure standards are updated

Focus on correct PPE as silica exposure standards are updated

The prevalence of silica-dust-related illness in the Australian mining, manufacturing and construction industries is well-publicised, and support for bans on common silica-containing products is growing.

Hundreds of thousands of Australian workers are likely exposed to silica dust every year, with thousands developing silica-related illnesses as a result.

Several Australian states have introduced tighter restrictions, aimed at preventing exposure to silica dust, including stricter PPE standards and tightening occupational exposure limits for silica dust. However, businesses and PCBUs are reminded that they are responsible for workers’ health and safety and are required, so far as is reasonably practicable, that they are responsible for providing and maintaining a safe work environment.

Mining, in particular, is leading the way in Australia’s workplace health and safety in working to protect workers from the risks of silica exposure in the workplace. Legislative changes adopted in July 2020 saw most Australian states accept SafeWork Australia’s recommendation to halve the workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica, and since October 2022, all coal mines are regulated by a further reduction.

The difficulty for most businesses is controlling the dust-generation points on-site at each step of the mining process, and ensuring adequate PPE for workers, particularly in confined spaces. The most significant challenge for businesses in terms of PPE is ensuring worker compliance for effectiveness.

Selecting appropriate respiratory equipment for purpose, ensuring the fit of the product takes into consideration facial structure and hair of the worker, the amount of time it will be worn for, as well as environmental and communication considerations.

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