The Gold Coast Bulletin

Stone cold ire over dust


APPRENTICE­S in Victorian TAFE courses are being taught how to dry cut sandstone that contains high levels of potentiall­y deadly silica dust. Some are allegedly not wearing masks.

La Rocca Marble & Granite’s regional manager Debbie Clark said she was disgusted to learn her Melbourne-based apprentice­s were being exposed to the killer chemicals at the government-backed training facility, Holmesglen.

She has written to the federal and state government­s asking why one student was not wearing a mask and another’s mask was not P2 filtered.

WorkSafe Victoria said it was investigat­ing.

“You could cut the air with a knife with the amount of dust in the room,” Ms Clark said. “We send our boys to learn at TAFE, to learn a trade and to hopefully show them the right way of learning without putting themselves at risk.

“I’m furious. We have a duty of care to ensure our boys’ safety at work and if they go to TAFE and breathe this silica in and get silicosis as a result then who is going to pay for them when they are diagnosed and or dying?”

Ms Clark said employers were obligated to pay for the air monitoring and health assessment­s for authoritie­s and it was “double standards” that government-backed training centres did not.

Silicosis is an incurable disease causing the scarring of the lungs and hampering the ability to breathe. It can be terminal. Queensland was the first state to ban the dry cutting of artificial engineered stone in 2018. Victoria followed in 2019 and New South Wales in 2020. Dry cutting on sandstone is not outlawed.

Engineered or man-made stone contains up to 90 per cent silica dust, and while sandstone is a natural product it contains up to 70 per cent of naturally occurring crystallin­e silica.

Associate dean of building constructi­on and trades at Holmesglen, Elizabeth Jansz, said the health and safety of students and staff was the educator’s top priority.

“We take these incidents very seriously,” she said. “We are doubling down on our safe-work practices by providing more training, increasing supervisio­n and installing more safety equipment.”

It is understood Holmesglen only dry cuts stone that requires ornate 3D carving for historical restoratio­ns and that apprentice­s are inducted and briefed on all safety equipment, including the requiremen­t to wear fitted P2 or P3 masks at all times when cutting.

By mid-September it aims to buy vacuum-assisted power tools, provide more detailed training on the correct fitting of face masks and implement atmospheri­c monitoring.

So far this year, WorkSafe Victoria has conducted 368 workplace inspection­s relating to crystallin­e silica and issued 159 enforcemen­t notices.

Ms Clark said La Rocca’s Melbourne branch was fully compliant with safety regulation­s for silica dust, with nil silica detected during its most recent air-monitoring compliance check.

Derick Brosnan has owned La Rocca Marble since 2011 and has spent more than $100,000 to ensure his Arundel workshop complied with all health and safety obligation­s as required by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland’s stone benchtop code of practice. The business also favours working with lithostone, a product that contains about 3 per cent silica dust.

“We also now have machinery that does the work of arising the edges of the stone which takes the hand polishing out of the equation, providing less exposure to the workers,” he said.

 ??  ?? Apprentice­s are taught to dry cut sandstone at a Victorian TAFE course.
Apprentice­s are taught to dry cut sandstone at a Victorian TAFE course.

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