Failure to Act

Failure to Act

Introduction

“We are approaching the 100th anniversary of the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel disaster, where hundreds of young minority workers developed acute and accelerated silicosis while drilling a tunnel through the pure quartz of Gauley Mountain, West Virginia, to bring water to a power station.

In this new millennium, fashionably stressed denim jeans and colorful countertops are not worth the price paid by these workers”

The National Dust Disease Taskforce (NDDT) has invited submissions following the publication of the Interim Advice and the commencement of the second phase of the consultation process.

The ACTU has reviewed the Interim Advice and Consultation Paper and engaged with our affiliates in preparing this submission. Our analysis is focused on the areas of concern to which unions can most relevantly contribute and as such we have confined our responses to those questions that deal directly with work health and safety.

Additionally, we also address a number of issues which the Interim Advice, and subsequent Consultation Paper, have failed to consider and urge the NDDT to expand the areas for reform to be undertaken.

We believe that it should be a matter of grave concern to the Federal government that Australian workers across a range of industries are still being exposed to a well-known carcinogen and dust which causes irreversible lung damage. As exposure to silica dust and subsequent ill health affects workers across a broad range of industries increases it is imperative that the NDDT addresses all exposures to silica and other work-related dusts.

The ACTU does not oppose any of the recommendations contained in the NDDT Interim Report. However, the cautious and conservative approach in the Interim Report and the second Consultation Paper ignore many key issues which are again reiterated in this submission. The ACTU has deep concerns that by narrowing recommendations to the engineered stone industry the work of the National Dust Disease Taskforce will again become another example of a ‘failure to act’.

Whilst it is acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic may have delayed some governments’ activities, a stock take of our November 2019 Recommendations indicates faltering and patchy progress. The response by state governments, through the health and safety regulators has been encouraging but, in many cases, limited.

Neither the Interim Report or the Phase 2 Consultation paper discuss how:

o all diseases caused by silicosis are to be recorded, notified or be subject to health surveillance requirements

o all exposures to silica are to be prevented, irrespective of the source of the exposure

o the application of methods of prevention will vary on the source of exposure, e.g. ban on certain products through to a combination of risk control measures when working with naturally occurring silica

o all industries are to be subject to clear, comprehensive health and safety regulations and requirements o all industries will need to comply with a WES of 0.02mgm/m3, as recommended in the SWA WES Consultation paper 2019 and subsequent SWA decision .

Immediate action is required, as the evidence is clear that the industry will not protect workers safety, unless it is mandated. It is clear we have a business model that accepts that workers will become seriously ill, and rather than address the underlying health and safety hazards is simply ‘pricing in’ the costs associated with exposure and ill health.

It is very important that the NDDT take heed of the actions taken by industry unions to protect worker health and safety. In particular, the ACTU draws the NDDT’s attention to the silica training and awareness initiatives of the CFMMEU and the reaffirmation by the AWU that workers will not be protected from silica exposures if the NDDT limits its recommendations and activities to those involved in fabrication of engineered stone products.

The ACTU thanks the NDDT for the opportunity to provide a submission on this important issue and supports and endorses the submissions made by individual unions.

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