Safe Work Australia’s ‘Clean Air. Clear Lungs.’ campaign aims to raise awareness of the dangers of occupational lung disease.

By Mark S. Kuhar

SafetyOccupational lung diseases are a major work health and safety concern in Australia. Safe Work Australia’s “Clean Air. Clear Lungs.” campaign aims to raise awareness of the dangers of occupational lung disease to protect workers from breathing in hazardous air. 

“Not all hazards in the workplace are visible. It’s important to identify if your work processes are creating hazards such as dusts, gases, fumes or vapours, that if inhaled can cause lung disease,” said Safe Work Australia Chief Executive Officer Michelle Baxter. “Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) must ensure the health and safety of their workers – this includes protecting their lungs. Safe Work Australia is providing PCBUs with information on how to eliminate or manage these work health and safety risks as part of their risk management process. This is not a one-off – all control measures need to be reviewed regularly to make sure they are still working and controlling the risk.” 

The Clean Air. Clear Lungs. campaign targets high-risk industries of construction, agriculture, manufacturing and engineered stone.

Safe Work Australia’s Clean Air. Clear Lungs. campaign is supported by Safe Work Australia Members, including work health and safety regulators. 

Safe Work Australia is now seeking feedback on proposed policy options to manage the risks of exposure to respirable crystalline silica (silica dust) in Australian workplaces.

Through a recently published Consultation Regulation Impact Statement, Safe Work Australia seeks to gather views on proposed regulatory and non-regulatory options to protect workers from silicosis and other diseases caused by exposure to silica dust.

Baxter said silica dust is a significant health hazard for workers across a range of workplaces that process silica-containing materials such as engineered stone, natural stone and concrete.

“Workplace exposure to silica dust has led to an increase in the number of cases of silicosis and other silica-related diseases in Australia,” she said. “Between 2010-11 and 2019-20 there were 412 accepted workers’ compensation claims for silicosis in the jurisdictions covered by the model WHS laws. I was a member of the National Dust Disease Taskforce which found that nearly one in four workers in the engineered stone sector have evidence of silicosis.”

Baxter encourages the community and stakeholders to comment on the options outlined in the Consultation Regulation Impact Statement, including providing additional evidence and data on the extent of the problem and views on the effectiveness of the options. 

“We would like to hear from persons conducting a business or undertaking, work health and safety professionals, government agencies, industry and peak bodies, employer and worker representatives, and other parties interested in managing the risks of respirable crystalline silica at work. The submissions and supporting evidence on the anticipated impacts will be used to evaluate the costs and benefits of the proposed options. The submissions will inform the Decision Regulation Impact Statement provided to work health and safety ministers to assist them to decide the best course of action to reduce workplace exposure to silica dust and protect workers from silicosis and other silica related diseases.”


Preventing Psychological Harm

Preventing psychological harm is an essential part of creating a healthy and safe workplace.

The model work health and safety (WHS) laws now include regulations on psychosocial hazards. A new model Code of Practice on Managing psychosocial hazards at work explains the laws and how to comply with them, including practical steps to manage workplace risks to psychological health. 

Safe Work Australia Chief Executive Officer Michelle Baxter said that “under work health and safety laws, PCBUs have a positive duty to do everything they reasonably can to prevent exposure to psychosocial hazards and risks.

“Psychosocial hazards are anything at work that may cause psychological harm. 

“They can come from the way work is designed and managed, the working environment, or behaviours including bullying, harassment, discrimination, aggression and violence,” she said.

Baxter said work-related psychological injuries and illness have a significant negative impact on workers, their families and business. 

“On average, work-related psychological injuries have longer recovery times, higher costs, and require more time away from work when compared with physical injuries,” she said. “Workers’ compensation claims for psychological injury and illness have increased and impose high costs to employers through time off and workers’ compensation costs. Managing psychosocial risks protects workers, decreases staff turnover and absenteeism, and may improve broader organisational performance and productivity.”

The model WHS Regulations and Code of Practice: Managing psychosocial hazards at work were developed through Safe Work Australia’s tripartite process which includes Commonwealth, state and territory governments, and employer and worker representatives. 

The model Code of Practice: Managing psychosocial hazards at work is available on the Safe Work Australia website along with other materials including new model WHS Regulations to support PCBUs to meet their WHS duties.

Safe Work Australia is an Australian government statutory agency. It develops national policy to improve WHS and workers’ compensation arrangements across Australia. As a national policy body, it does not regulate WHS laws or administer workers’ compensation arrangements. The Commonwealth, states and territories regulate and enforce WHS laws and administer workers’ compensation schemes in their jurisdictions. The model WHS Regulations and model Code of Practice do not automatically apply in a jurisdiction. Find information on WHS in your jurisdiction by contacting your WHS regulator.

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