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Victoria introduces dry cutting ban to mitigate dust risk

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A ban on “uncontrolled” dry-cutting of material containing crystalline silica is now in effect in Victoria as the state government ramps up efforts to protect workers from deadly exposure.

The tough new regulations will dramatically cut workers’ exposure to crystalline silica and reduce their likelihood of developing life-threatening silicosis, the government says.

Silicosis is a proclaimed disease, meaning workers or dependents of a worker with silicosis are entitled to compensation without having to prove that work contributed to the disease.

WorkSafe received 55 claims for silica-related conditions last financial year. Fifteen workers have died from the disease since 1985.

Under the new dry-cutting ban, employers must ensure power tools are not used to cut, grind or abrasively polish engineered stone unless on-tool water suppression or dust extraction devices are in place and respiratory protection is used.

Silica dust impacts workers in construction, mining and quarrying. Stonemasons are at higher risk of exposure due to the cutting and polishing of artificial stone benchtops which contain high concentrations of silica.

The state Government plans free health screenings for Victoria’s 1400 stonemasons and a compliance blitz of high-risk workplaces. There have already been 20 claims as a result of positive diagnoses from the screening process.

Victoria is pushing for a national silicosis strategy and wants Australia’s workplace silica exposure standard reduced from 0.1mg per cubic metre to 0.02mg over an eight-hour day.

The Andrews Government first unveiled the measures in May.