Silicosis has been flagged as a problem in the Australian mining industry since the beginning of the 20th century. Yet the dust disease is still prevalent today. Over 600,000 Australian workers are exposed to silica dust each year and an estimated 230 develop lung cancer as a result.
“In mines and quarry sites, there are a number of operational processes that produce dust – silica is a commonly occurring mineral found in most rock, so any activity that involves the crushing of rock can result in exposure,” explains Michael Rowe, Product Manager for Safety with CBC Australia.
“While it’s not a new issue – in fact the Government has highlighted silica exposure as a key industry issue since the 1920s – the fact is this disease kills, and as it’s still the cause of so many deaths, it remains a serious problem.”
Which is why Michael says workplace controls are critical.
“Silicosis is preventable through controls that either stop or reduce the amount of silica dust,” he stresses. “As there is no cure for silicosis, prevention is the only option.”
Mines and quarries are of course subject to Work, Health and Safety (WHS) regulations that require them to evaluate risks and implement a Hierarchy of Controls4. Nonetheless, Michael points out that it is still up to individuals to follow the rules. This is particularly important when it comes to wearing respiratory protection equipment (RPE), which is often referred to as the ‘last line of defence’.
“Workers in these industries should heed their site safety rules if they want to avoid having underlying problems in their future years,” he explains. “Masks are not always fun – as everyone nationally has now experienced – and when you’re onsite and working hard, wearing a mask can be particularly challenging. This is why having the right respirator and fitment to suit your working environment is vitally important. It’s so you get to go home healthy at the end of the day.”
Furthermore, Michael says it is fundamental employers “make sure the RPE is fit for purpose, not fit for price.”
When it comes to advising customers about RPE, however, he defers to the knowledge and expertise of CBC Australia’s premium partner, 3M.
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