Greens NSW MP and spokesperson for Fair Trading and Better Regulation, Abigail Boyd, is calling on the NSW Government to support a ban on manufactured stone and immediately step up workplace enforcement to prevent silica exposure for workers in NSW.
Quotes attributable to Abigail Boyd, Greens NSW MP and spokesperson for Fair Trading and Better Regulation:
“The explosion of silicosis cases in our workforce is a tragedy, and is made all the more tragic by how preventable it was. A failure of safety standards and regulation has left workers exposed to dangerous workplace conditions, with inadequate monitoring and support,” Abigail said.
“The health and safety regulators, SafeWork in NSW, have had a completely hands off approach to the management and containment of this disease. Lives could have been saved if standards were imposed and enforced.
“The Greens have been leading the call for an urgent ban on manufactured stone in NSW for years.
“As the Greens spokesperson for Fair Trading and Better Regulation I am writing to Minister Dominello today urging him to support the call for a ban on manufactured stone at next week’s meeting of State and Territory Ministers, and to ensure that the ongoing review into addressing the failures of SafeWork has a focus on increasing enforcement and compliance of unacceptably high silica exposure on worksites.
“A national plan is needed to protect workers across the country, but it’s ultimately not necessary. Victoria has already made moves towards better regulating and protecting against silicosis. There is no reason NSW can’t do the same thing. The Greens are urging the NSW Government to move immediately and use every element of its regulatory power to contain this unacceptable threat.
“We are in the middle of a supposed housing and apartment construction boom. Many of these new dwellings will have manufactured stone, which will need to be cut to size onsite. This presents an unacceptable risk to workers.
“Banning manufactured stone won’t solve the issue of silicosis. Workers in tunnels and in the mines are also being exposed at unacceptably high levels.
“These workers will continue to be endangered without a significant reform to the workers compensation and health and safety landscape towards a regime that puts the health and well-being of workers first and foremost, rather than tip-toeing around the profit incentives of property developers and political mega-donors,” Abigail Boyd said.
“SafeWork inspectors have neglected the majority of sites where exposure to high concentrations of silica is commonplace. The sites they do inspect are typically manufacturing factories that are often given prior warning of an inspection - and if they are found to be in breach they are typically given either a warning or in repeated and egregious instances only a minor fine. These fines are set at levels that constitute merely a cost of doing business.
“Major sites of silica exposure are in the installation of benchtops on job sites around the country. The overwhelming majority of these sites will never come into contact with SafeWork inspectors - and unscrupulous developers and labour contractors exploit this fact to place workers at levels of unacceptable risk to keep costs low and profits high.
“Rather than stepping up enforcement efforts within SafeWork, the NSW Liberal-National party has announced their intention to reintroduce the federally abolished ABCC in NSW, to target and harass unions and worker representatives. A large part of the construction union’s day to day work is in health and safety compliance. Rather than working with the unions to keep workers safe, the government is once again siding with massive developers to endanger the lives and livelihoods of workers.
“It’s not the workers who need a watchdog, it’s the greedy developers.
“SafeWork and iCare are failing workers in setting and enforcing standards - and by failing to provide health screening and education around the risks of silicosis.
“Most workers exposed to dangerous concentrations of silica won’t receive adequate health screening and examination to let them know if they are at risk of developing silicosis until the disease is too far advanced to be stopped.
“Workers who are identified early enough aren’t provided with the support to transition into a new job that won’t kill them. With no other option, many workers make the difficult decision to return to a dangerous workplace.
“Our workers compensation system is routinely failing people, having been run into the ground by the decisions and failures of Dominic Perrottet, first as Treasurer and now as Premier. The Minister responsible for iCare has just recently resigned in disgrace.
“The surge in silicosis is a national disgrace, and governments at all levels share the blame for failing to protect our workers.
“A ban on manufactured stone will go some way to creating safer working environments. But much of this tragedy could have been mitigated with a functioning health and safety regulator, and a proactive education and screening regime by a workers compensation system that was actually looking out for workers,” Abigail said.