Silicosis was identified as an occupational disease in the 1940s, why has it re-emerged 60 years later?
With the sudden spike in cases of silicosis, Australian workers in the trades affected by this disease have called for a country-wide ban on the dry cutting techniques of newer engineered stone products, which contain high levels of crystalline silica. The substance is also found in bricks, roof tiles and concrete products.
During the cutting process crystalline silica dust is released and, when inhaled into the lungs, causes disease that is an aggressive form of pneumoconiosis. It can be fatal.
While there are other dangerous dusts, such as asbestos, the latent period for silicosis symptoms show up earlier, affecting people in their 20s and 30s.
SafeWork NSW says the disease is 100 per cent preventable if the correct safety procedures are followed and personal protective equipment is worn when cutting the stone.
During the cutting process crystalline silica dust is released
The safety requirements also involve regular monitoring to ensure that legal exposure limits are maintained and workers receive periodic health screening of their lungs.
Dust, no matter how harmless, is a foreign particle and once inhaled can cause disease.
Is complacency a factor, or is it that we are so consumed with global trends and economic growth that we ignore previous control measures and safety standards that have been enacted to mitigate risk and prevent serious consequences?
It is estimated that engineered stone contains up to 90 per cent of crystalline silica, compared with a natural stone such as marble that has about 5 per cent.
Has there been a lack of knowledge and information given in the industry on the differences in the risk levels of the products? Or has basic commonsense been ignored when it comes to risk management?
“Cheaper and faster”, indicates less robust, higher failure rates; higher risk rates and compromised safety.
In June 2017, Grenfell Tower was the site of the UK’s worst residential fire. Seventy two people died in the tragedy. This catastrophic incident occurred when the cheaper popular exterior cladding was used in renovations. It then attributed to the rapid spread of the fire. Worst still, the material was used despite warnings that those specific panels were a fire risk for tall buildings.
New engineered silica products are cheaper, hardy and less brittle than marble
Is it time to revert to a proactive approach with greater scrutiny of imported, new and innovated products to ensure they meet strict quality control, the standard building codes, fire safety and general safety requirements of the country of use?
Is threat to life the trigger to make change happen?
Cheaper and faster has its place, but not when it’s playing with lives.