20 items to keep workers safe from Crystalline Silica in the Stone Benchtop Industry

With the recent introduction of a new code of practice for silica in the stone benchtop industry we have put together a list of 20 items that will help keep your workers safe.

  1. Train your workers.

Workers should be trained in the following areas:

  • The dangers and health effects of Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS)
  • Processes that may cause the release of dust
  • Control measures
  • Legislation and guidance material
  • Use of Respiratory protective equipment
  • Exposure control plans
  • Health monitoring requirements
  • Air monitoring requirements

The training should be contextualised and made relevant to the workplace, and be delivered by a competent individual.

  1. Prevention and control of water spray that contains RCS.

Although wet methods do control dust workers can still inhale the fine water spray. It can also dry in the air and then be breathed in, or can settle on surfaces, dry and become airborne again. Controls should be used to capture the water spray.

  1. Housekeeping- keep the area clean.

By doing this you control settled dust and minimise it becoming airborne. Use a H class vacuum to capture settled dust, or use a low-pressure water spray. Not only will this make the area safer but it will provide workers with a cleaner work area where work can be completed efficiently.

  1. Provide RPE (Masks) and ensure they are worn correctly.

This involves multiple components, as a guide:

  • Understanding how to wear and use your respirator properly, with correct training this can be done easily
  • Always be clean shaven when wearing RPE
  • Ensure workers are quantitatively fit tested prior to being issued with a respirator, and then conduct fit testing at least annually or when a change in facial features occurs (weight loss, weight gain, dental work)
  • Ensure workers are issued with the right respirator (ie P2 PAPR as a minimum in the stone benchtop industry)
  • Store respirators correctly- a sealed container is perfect for this- do not place them in the work area as they will capture dust inside
  • Maintain the respirator. This can be done by following maintenance procedures within the manufacturer specifications.
  1. Conduct health monitoring for your workers.

With health monitoring keep the following points in mind:

  • Complete health monitoring annually or before a worker commences work, and then conduct an exit medical on completion of employment
  • Keep records for 30 years
  • Some workers may be shy to conduct health monitoring- it is in their best interest to do this as it will assist in identifying problems and seeing if controls are effective. Incorporate health monitoring into training and ensure you consult with workers around the requirements of health monitoring
  1. No dry cutting- dry cutting is totally banned.

By dry cutting you are releasing a significant amount of silica into the air. Even short jobs can result in workers exceeding the exposure standard.

  1. Keep yourself clean.

This means vacuuming yourself off at the end of a shift so you do not transfer dust home or to other areas. This is a simple step to assist in controlling dust.

  1. Use a combination of controls (ie- local exhaust ventilation, RPE and wet methods)

A combination of controls is most effective in controlling Silica dust- we cannot just rely on RPE. Use a combination of controls to control silica dust. Validation of these controls can be done with air monitoring to ensure workers are below the exposure standard.

  1. Only use H Class vacuums if working with engineered stone products.

H class vacuums are 99.995% efficient and are suitable for asbestos and RCS.

  1. Dispose of slurry before it dries out.

This can be done by placing the slurry in a bag or by keeping it wet. Be conscious of where you are dumping and how you are dumping. You do not want to expose other subcontractors or other trades in the process.

  1. Work of the new Code of Practice.

Managing respirable crystalline silica dust exposure in the stone benchtop industry Code of Practice 2019

  1. Do as much work as possible at the shop.

Try to avoid cutting or modifying products onsite as this exposes others to RCS, and it is harder to use a combination of controls.

  1. Do daily checks to ensure that your controls are effective.

This could involve the use of a checklist, through walk around’s or through discussions with staff.

  1. Conduct air monitoring to see if the exposure standard has been exceeded.

Air monitoring needs to be done by a certified occupational hygienist. The exposure standard is currently set at .1mg/m3. Please note this is currently under review and will be lowered in the coming years.

  1. If your workers are concerned about silicosis use a counselling and support service.

There are numerous counselling services available for workers who are worried about, or have contracted silicosis.

  1. Use exclusion zones so that other workers are not exposed.

The zone will be based of your air monitoring, and the bigger the zone is, the better.

  1. Develop a respirable crystalline silica dust control plan

Due to the hazardous nature of Silica all stone benchtop companies should develop a RCS dust control plan. For more guidance on forming this plan see the Code of Practice.

  1. Consult with your workers.

Consultation is required under the WHS Act, but will also assist in brainstorming the best control measures for your business. Workers are involved in fabricating stone benchtops so their knowledge is invaluable in forming and implementing control measures that will not limit production and will make your workplace safer.

  1. Use free online tools and resources.

There are a number of valuable publications put out by industry groups online- use these as you see fit.

  1. Feel free to ask us how we can assist your business.

Pro Safety and Training is an established small business with a number of capable and competent staff that are able to assist your business in meetings its WHS requirements and keeping your workers safe.

We can assist your business in the following areas:

Simply give us a call on 1300 336 003 or email office@prosafetytraining.com.au for an in-depth discussion.

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