The Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) has stated the New South Wales Government workplace dust diseases report fails to accurately present meaningful solutions to the ongoing silica exposure problems for workers across all industries. 

AWU New South Wales Branch Secretary, Tony Callinan, said whilst there are some positive recommendations in the New South Wales Parliamentary Standing Committee’s Review of the Dust Diseases Scheme report, there was no indication of a clear intention to put any of them into practice with new legislation.

“It’s clear that the New South Wales Government and SafeWork New South Wales still hold the view that, contrary to all the evidence, the silica epidemic in this country is an issue that can be resolved with existing laws,” Mr Callinan said. 

“This is simply untrue.”

The AWU has long called for action to put an end to dust-related diseases such as silicosis, a fatal but preventable lung condition – dubbed the new asbestosis – caused by exposure to high levels of silica dust.

“The New South Wales [Government] is sitting on its hands and falling further behind in implementing solid laws to protect workers from silica dust,” Mr Callinan said. 

“This is taking too much time. Workers are dying.”

In a joint submission to the New South Wales Dust Diseases Scheme review, Mr Callinan and AWU National Secretary, Dan Walton, pointed out that incidences of silicosis were on the rise, and with the projected increase in larger civil construction “mega-projects”, the risk of workplace dust illnesses would only increase.

“We will see a tsunami of silicosis in the coming years and decades if swift preventative, regulatory and compensatory measures are not quickly adopted by all Australian governments to protect all workers exposed to silica dust,” Mr Walton wrote in the submission.

The AWU previously reported on workplace evidence given to the Federal Government’s National Dust Disease Taskforce which negatively impacted the health and safety of the industry workers, including: dirty, dusty workplaces, inadequate dust mitigation, lack of PPE, training and support.

Mr Callinan said some of the review’s recommendations may go some way to affect workplace health and safety, but only if broader legislative changes occurred.

They include the New South Wales Government:

  • Actively working towards a health-based workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica of 0.02mg/m3
  • Implementing, in consultation with key stakeholders, measures to enhance air-quality monitoring and reporting in relation to respirable crystalline silica
  • Strengthening the WHS framework around silica exposure, including the development and implementation of a compliance strategy by SafeWork New South Wales

Mr Walton, said the report’s recommendations miss the mark in key areas.

“The New South Wales Government and SafeWork New South Wales must clearly outline how workers exposed to silica dust across all industries – including tunnelling, civil construction, mining, quarrying, and road works – will be protected,” Mr Walton said.

“Victoria has introduced powerful new WHS laws that protect workers from silica exposure in all industries,” Mr Callinan said. 

“New laws to protect New South Wales workers, modelled on what has been done in Victoria, must be rolled out straight away, before more workers contract this horrible disease and die from it.”


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