New code of practice for the stone benchtop industry in Queensland

Silicosis advocates have welcomed a new code of practice for the stone benchtop industry in Queensland, but some say the measure is a “toothless tiger”. State Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace announced the code of practice on Wednesday, a year to the day from when the government first reacted to the unfolding health crisis.

The code provides an “enforceable” set of guidelines for the stone benchtop industry, but silicosis patient advocate Roger Singh, from Shine Lawyers, said the fact no new regulatory powers were announced was disappointing.

“We welcome the new code, but there has to be more done to ensure it isn’t a toothless tiger,” Mr Singh said.

“We have been calling for some months for a nation-wide solution to this issue, and a rigorous regulation of the stonemason industry to safeguard against adverse exposure.”

Ms Grace on Wednesday said the code “sets minimum and enforceable standards to ensure silica dust is managed safely and workers are protected”.

“The new code does not impose any new regulatory requirements on employers,” she said.

It simply complements the already stringent requirements of the Work Health and Safety Act and regulations.”

Mr Singh argued a national licensing regime should be implemented for the stonemason industry that would ensure safety standards were met.

Silicosis is caused by tiny particles of silica dust being inhaled, causing irreversible damage to the lung tissues.

Manufactured stone, which is used extensively in modern interior design such as kitchen and bathroom benchtops, can be up to 90 per cent silica, meaning stonemasons are most at risk, especially if they have not been given basic safety precautions such as a breathing mask and goggles.

Earlier this year, Gold Coast stonemason Anthony White died from the disease, and his brother Shane Parata was diagnosed with silicosis a few days later.

Trevor Torrens from the Silicosis Support Network said the new code was good news for workers in the future, but unfortunately did not reverse the damage that had already been done.

“For workers already suffering with silicosis, this is a bit like the horse has bolted; they’re thankful something’s been done for their colleagues, but for them it’s too little, too late,” Mr Torrens said.
“I’m confident employers will take the new code seriously, but it does require vigilance.

Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace on Wednesday announced a new code of practice for the stone benchtop industry.

“We’re in this position because they weren’t vigilant and didn’t do the right thing in the first place – this code certainly strengthens their responsibilities, but again, their responsibilities were quite clear in the beginning as well.”

In total, 169 workers have been identified by Fair Work Queensland as having the lung disease, with 24 of those having developed progressive massive fibrosis as a result.

Ms Grace said Workcover Queensland had funded 1000 health screens for current and former workers in the industry, and was working to establish clinical guidelines to help medical practitioners assess and manage those workers exposed to silica.

“On the compliance front, we have completed 148 audits of all known engineered stone fabrication workplaces and 598 notices have been issued for offences such as dry cutting, poor dust control and improper protective equipment,” she said.

“Sixteen infringement notices have also been issued, with fines totalling $54,000.” The minister also confirmed audits of engineered stone fabrication workplaces were ongoing to ensure the code was being followed.

The Queensland government has already set up a notifiable register of professional dust diseases including silicosis, while the federal government earlier this year announced $5 million for a dedicated taskforce to look at the issue.

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