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Silica dust exposure and mental health on SafeWork NSW agenda

Over the first 2 months of the year, SafeWork NSW inspectors are visiting construction sites across NSW to talk about silica dust exposure and mental health.

SafeWork NSW Executive Director of Compliance and Dispute Resolution Tony Williams said SafeWork inspectors are talking to principal contractors and site supervisors about their responsibilities to reduce the risk of silica dust exposure and mental health risks.

Both risks are prevalent across the sector.

Silica dust is in sand-based materials such as concrete, bricks or stone, as well as in earth during excavation.

“When cutting or grinding these items, workers can breathe in fine silica dust, which can be deadly. In NSW in 2020–2021, there were 57 cases of silicosis diagnosed and seven deaths,” Mr Williams said.

“When working with products that generate silica dust, employers must have safe systems of work in place and workers be provided with the right safety equipment, such as wet cutting or on-tool dust capture tools. The days of workers being exposed to silica dust on construction sites must be a thing of the past.

“In addition, mental health is a real and often overlooked problem in the building and construction industry, with construction workers being six times more likely to die from suicide than from an incident at work,” Mr Williams added.

“Employers need to identify and control the psychosocial hazards that could lead to mental ill-health, such as bullying and aggression, unmanageable workloads and a lack of job clarity.

“With COVID-19 risks front-of-mind, it is a good time for employers to think about their responsibilities to ensure both a physically and mentally safe work environment.”

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