You wouldn’t accept being exposed to asbestos, right? Then why should we expect any different for silica?
Silicosis is a deadly and incurable lung disease caused by inhaling crystalline silica dust. When you cut, grind or drill engineered stone, it fills the air you breathe with the fine-grained dust.
Engineered stone is a fashion product that is killing the workers who make it.
As many as one in four stonemasons who work with engineered stone products have contracted silicosis – with safer alternatives readily available, why are we risking the lives of tradies for a fashionable finish in our kitchens?
The 60 Minutes episode Last Gasp, broadcast in February 2023, leaves no doubt as to its devastating consequences.
The ban to save lives
No one should have to risk their life in order to earn a living. Here’s what workers need to see happen:
- A ban on all engineered stone products other than products already in place which will need to be managed or removed (this is similar to how we deal with asbestos).
- A plan to make sure workers who remove or remodel engineered stone are kept safe.
Without these measures in place, more workers will lose their lives.
A sombre reminder of safety at work
Next week, on Friday 28 April, is International Workers Memorial Day: a day when we commemorate lives lost at work over the past year. It is a day where we remember the dead and fight like hell for the living.
It is Safe Work Australia – the government body that develops national policy on Work Health and Safety – that publishes the number of workplace deaths that occur in Australia.
However, deaths caused by silica have been kept largely invisible with only one state, Victoria, recording deaths from occupational disease. Safe Work Australia does not count deaths from diseases as a ‘work-related fatality’.
In Victoria, it was in 2021 that pressure from union members led to the Victorian WHS body – WorkSafe Victoria – including silica-related deaths in the official figure.
As Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Luke Hilakari said at the time: “You count what you care about.”
“Counting and understanding what is going on is the first step towards thinking about what controls should be put in place,” he said.
Workers are people first. That’s why union members stand together for better workplace conditions and protected workers’ rights.
The best way to keep yourself safe at work is to join your union. You can also help make the ban on silica a reality in workplaces across Australia.