Navigating Queensland’s recently released Code of Practice for Silica Dust Management in Construction
In a move towards safer workplaces, Queensland’s Industrial Relations Minister has given the green light to the “Managing respirable crystalline silica dust exposure in construction and manufacturing of construction elements Code of Practice 2022.”
As of May 1, 2023, this Code establishes Australia’s first comprehensive set of guidelines to address silica dust in the construction industry.
What is Silica Dust?
Crystalline silica is commonly found in building materials like bricks, blocks, pavers, tiles, concrete, cement, and even most rocks, sands, and clays. Activities such as cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, polishing, scabbling, or crushing these materials can create respirable crystalline silica (RCS). These tiny particles stay airborne for a long time, cannot be seen under normal light, and are easily inhaled deep into the lungs.
What is the risk of respirable crystalline silica (RCS)?
Inhaling RCS can lead to the development of silicosis which is an incurable lung disease that can lead to disability or even death. It may also lead to other diseases such as lung cancer, renal cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Common symptoms of silicosis include shortness of breath, severe cough, and general weakness. Silicosis typically occurs from exposure to RCS over a period of time, but high exposure can cause it to develop rapidly.
Understanding the Code
The Code encompasses all construction work and the manufacturing of materials that contain RCS. It was developed in collaboration with workers, employers, and technical experts across Queensland.
The Code outlines requirements to meet Queensland’s work health and safety legislation by eliminating or minimising exposure to RCS by:
- Implementing proven dust control techniques to prevent the generation and release of silica dust (such as water suppression and on-tool dust extraction)
- Analysing exposure data from air monitoring to verify the effectiveness of dust control measures
- Using suitable respiratory protective equipment to ensure the safety of workers at risk
- Ensuring that the respiratory protective equipment is fit-tested by a competent person
- Providing health monitoring to workers at risk, with well-defined triggers for testing based on the level of risk
- Engaging in consultations with workers and providing training, education, instruction, and supervision as necessary.
How does it apply to me?
If you are a business owner or PCBU that engages in construction or manufacturing work, you have a legal responsibility to protect the health and safety of your staff. This means if you use, handle, generate, or store materials that contain crystalline silica, you must manage the risk of exposure for your workers.
The Code outlines a mandatory risk management process which includes three steps:
- Identify RCS hazards
- Choose the right controls
- Monitor and review the controls
Details and methods relating to the code can be found on the WorkSafe QLD website.
How can we help?
Are your business practices up to date with this new Code? If you’re seeking guidance, assistance, or comprehensive risk management processes related to silica dust, our expert team is here to support you.