Recently much attention has been focused on silica and coal dust exposure. This is due to the multiple positive Silicosis diagnoses from employees working in the engineered stone industry and the spate of mine dust related diseases in Queensland (as reported by ABC news in February). The reason for the recent spate of these illnesses is likely to be due to an absence of control measures or inadequacy of implemented control measures.
One thing that can be said is that there appears to be a trend of heavy reliance on Respiratory Protection. This is possibly due to its cost and the perceived simplicity of implementation. This is all well and good if the respiratory protection is providing adequate exposure control. JTA performs multitudes of exposure assessments and frequently discovers issues that reduce the effectiveness or render the Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) ineffective, including:
The diseases caused by respirable silica and coal dust can take many years to present, even decades! This means that when there is a lack of, or inadequate, control it will take some time until this becomes apparent and can be addressed. It will result in continued diagnosed cases long after the control inadequacies are resolved, similar to asbestos fibre exposure and mesothelioma. This highlights the need to evaluate exposure, the adequacy of control measures and to perform health surveillance on a regular basis
The Hierarchy of Control refers to the ways of controlling risk and these must be considered in a particular order. As SafeWork Australia point out, the WHS/OHS Regulations make it mandatory for duty holders to work through this hierarchy when managing risk.
The hierarchy of control is not just a page filler in the Safety Legislation. It’s the fundamental basis for exposure control and is critical in preventing occupational disease.