4.5 Crystalline Silica

The new Crystalline Silica regulations came into effect on November 15, 2021.  

These Regulations replace the Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Crystalline Silica) Interim Regulations 2019 (Interim Regulations) and strengthen the regulatory regime to better protect workers from exposure to respirable crystalline silica. 

The main changes in the new regulations:

  • introduce Australia’s first licensing regime for engineered stone, including increased manufacturer and supplier duties;
  • make permanent Victoria’s prohibition on uncontrolled dry-cutting of engineered stone; and
  • add additional regulatory oversight of high risk crystalline silica work outside of engineered stone across all industries, including the construction and earth resources industries

Commencement

The Regulations will be introduced over a period of time to ensure duty holders have enough time to prepare for the relevant changes to their duties and obligations.

The table below outlines the phased commencement for high-risk silica work reform, manufacturer and supplier duties and a 12 month transition period for the engineered stone licence scheme.

Timing Activity

Commencement of regulations

(15 Nov 2021)

  • Commencement of licensing applications, beginning of transition to licensing scheme (Part 4.5, Division 1; Part 4.5, Division 5; Part 6.1, Division 1, Subdivision 6);
  • Commencement of specific controls to be used when working with engineered stone (including continued prohibition on drycutting) (Part 4.5, Division 3, Subdivision 3).

6 months later

(15 May 2022)

  • Commencement of high risk crystalline silica work reform (Part 4.5, Division 3, Subdivision 1; Part 4.5, Division 3, Subdivision 2;
  • Commencement of manufacturer and supplier duties (Part 4.5, Division 2).

12 months later

(15 Nov 2022)

  • All businesses working with engineered stone must be licenced (Part 4.5, Division 4);
  • Suppliers cannot supply engineered stone to businesses who require a licence but do not have one (Part 4.5, Division 4).

Part 4.5 Crystalline Silica

Division 1 - Introductory matters

319A Application of Part

This Part applies in addition to Part 4.1 (Hazardous Substances)

Definitions

New definitions and a new engineered stone licence have been added to regulation 5 in the Principal Regulations - that is, in the front part of the regulations. The (main) definitions related to this Part are: 

crystalline silica means crystalline polymorphs of silica, including the following substances -

(a) quartz; 
(b) cristobalite; 
(c) tridymite; 
(d) tripoli;

crystalline silica substance means any substance that -

(a) contains more than 1% crystalline silica; and 
(b) is reasonably likely to be mechanically processed at a workplace; and 
(c) is not in a respirable form;

Dust Class H Vacuum means—

(a) a vacuum that complies with the Class H requirements in AS/NZS 60335.2.69:2017 - Household and similar electrical appliances - Safety - Part 2.69: Particular requirements for wet and dry vacuum cleaners, including power brush, for commercial use; or 
(b) a vacuum that complies with equivalent requirements to the requirements referred to in paragraph (a);

engineered stone means a manufactured composite stone material that contains - 

(a) resins; and 
(b) 40% or more crystalline silica;

local exhaust ventilation means an engineering control that captures the emission of an airborne contaminant at its source and transports it to a safe emission point, filter or scrubber;

respiratory protective equipment, in Part 4.5 and Subdivision 6 of Division 1 of Part 6.1, means personal protective equipment that - 

(a) is designed to protect the wearer from the inhalation of airborne contaminants; and 
(b) complies with AS/NZS 1716:2012 - Respiratory protective devices, or requirements equivalent to those of that Standard.

Please go to the regulations to see the full definitions.

319B What is a crystalline process?

A crystalline silica process is one or more of the following processes carried out at a workplace - 

(a) the use of a power tool or other form of mechanical plant to -

(i) cut, grind, polish or crush material containing crystalline silica; or 
(ii) carry out any other activity involving material containing crystalline silica that creates crystalline silica dust;

(b) the use of a roadheader on an excavated face if the material in the face contains crystalline silica;

(c) a process exposing someone to crystalline silica dust from the manufacture or handling of material that contains crystalline silica;

(d) the mechanical screening of crushed material containing crystalline silica;

(e) a quarrying process involving material containing crystalline silica;

(f) a tunnelling process involving material containing crystalline silica;

(g) any other process determined by the Authority to be a crystalline silica process.

319C What is high risk crystalline silica work?

This is work that is reasonably likely to result in an airborne concentration of respirable crystalline silica that exceeds half the exposure standard; or a risk to the health of a person at the workplace.

Note: The current exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica dust is 0.05 mg/m3 as a time-weighted average (TWA) airborne concentration over 8 hours. 

However, WorkSafe Victoria recommends that employers take a precautionary approach and reduce employees' exposure to below 0.02 mg/m3 as an 8-hour TWA to prevent silicosis and minimise the risk of lung cancer.

319D What is a crystalline silica hazard control statement?

A document prepared for high risk crystalline silica work:

  • stating the associated hazards and risks, and
  • describes measures to control the risks, and how these will be implemented, and
  • if an analysis is required (under r319O), contains its results, and 
  • is readily accessible and comprehensible to persons who use it.

319E What is an engineered stone process?

- a process in a workplace involving engineered stone which generates crystalline silica dust, including cutting, grinding or abrasive polishing.

Division 2 - Duties of manufacturers and suppliers

319F Application of Division

  • applies from 14 May 2022
  • apply only to the manufacture and supply of a crystalline silica substance at a workplace for sale or exchange to another workplace

319G - Information

Manufacturer or supplier must provide the following information in writing to any person a crystalline substance is supplied to and on request, to an employer who proposes to use the crystalline substance at a workplace:

  • the proportion (percentage) of crystalline silica in the substance
  • the name, address and telephone number of the manufacturer (in Australia) or the importing supplier 
  • exposure controls, exposure standards, engineering controls and PPE information in relation to the crystalline substance
  • on the handling and storage of the crystalline substance including how it may be safely used.

319H - requires that the above information must be reviewed and revised as often as necessary and at least every 5 years. The revised information must be given to any person to whom the crystalline substance is supplied to. 

Division 3 - Duties of employers and self-employed persons (SEP)

Subdivision 1 - High risk crystalline silica work

319I - Application of Division

  • applies from 15 May 2022
  • does not apply to:
    • an employer or a self-employed person (SEP) who is an engineered stone licence holder (see Division 4); or
    • a person undertaking an engineered stone process referred in Division 5.

319J - Identification of high risk crystalline silica work

This regulation requires that before undertaking such work an employer/SEP undertakes a risk assessment to identify whether the process or combination of processes is high risk, OR identify that it is high risk work. 

The risk assessment must take  into account:

(a) the specific tasks or processes;
(b) the form of crystalline silica to be used;
(c) the proportion of crystalline silica in the material;
(d) previous atmospheric monitoring results;
(e) the likely frequency and duration of exposure to crystalline silica dust;
(f) any information about incidents, illnesses or diseases associated with exposure to crystalline silica dust at the workplace.

An employer or SEP cannot rely on the effect of any measures implemented to control exposure to crystalline silica dust in accordance with regulation 163 (general duty to control risks of hazardous substances).

If an employer or a SEP cannot identify whether a crystalline silica process or combination of crystalline silica processes is high risk crystalline silica work, then it must be treated as high risk crystalline silica work until it can be identified that it is not. 

319K Record of high risk crystalline silica work

If a risk assessment is done under r319J, the employer or SEP must make a written record describing how the matters listed were taken into account, identifies whether or not the process/processes are high risk, and keep the record for the period during which the process/processes are undertaken at the workplace. 

This record must be made accessible to any employee who may be exposed to crystalline silica dust; and the health and safety representative of any affected DWG.

319L Crystalline silica hazard control statement required for high risk crystalline silica work

(1) Any high risk work can only be performed in accordance with a crystalline silica hazard control statement prepared before work starts.

(2) If work is not done according to the statement, the employer or SEP must stop the work immediately or as soon as it is safe to stop. It must not start again until the statement is complied with or reviewed and revised (as per r319M)

(3) High risk crystalline silica work that is high risk construction work if the prepared safe work method statement (SWMS) also addresses the matters required by a crystalline silica hazard control statement and addresses the risks, then compliance with the SWMS is sufficient.

The next reg, 319M requires the statement to be reviewed and revised:

a - whenever work changes; or
b - if it seems the risk control measures are not controlling the risks adequately, including if there's an incident

319M requires the employer/SEP to keep a copy of the statement 'for the duration of the high risk crystalline silica work' it was written for.

319O Analysis of material to be used in quarrying or tunnelling process

If the high risk work involves quarrying or tunnelling, then samples must be collected and analysed to identify the proportion of crystalline silica in each sample by a suitably qualified person. 

Subdivision 2 - Provision of information for high risk crystalline silica work

319P-319R

319P This subdivision applies from 15 May, 2022.

319Q An employer must provide the following information to job applicants applying for work involving high risk crystalline silica work:

a - the health risks associated with exposure to crystalline silica dust 
b - the need for and details of measures to control those risks

319R An employer must ensure employees likely to be exposed associated with exposure to crystalline silica dust are given information, instruction and training in (a) and (b) above, and also in (c) how the risk control measures are to be implemented.

Subdivision 3 - Specific measures to control risks associated with engineered stone

319S Use of power tool or mechanical plant 

Under this regulation, an employer or SEP must ensure that if power tool or other form of mechanical plant is used is used to undertake an engineered stone process,  the tool/plant is used with - 

  1. an integrated water delivery system supplying a continuous water feed (with particular requirements); or
  2. or a commercially available on tool extraction system  and is connected to
    1. a Dust Class H Vacuum or
    2. another suitable system;  or
  3.  if neither of these are practicable, a local exhaust system.

319T - Design and installation

An employer/SEP who needs to use a system as per 319S must ensure it is designed and installed to eliminate any risk of exposure to crystalline silica dust, so far as is reasonably practicable - or reduce it so far as is reasonably practicable. 

319U - Use and maintenance

Duty to ensure the system is properly used and maintained so that they are effective in eliminating or reducing exposure to airborne crystalline silica dust generated as a result of the work.

319V - Respiratory protective equipment RPE

An employer must ensure that an employee undertaking the work is provided with and uses respiratory protective equipment.

319W Information, instruction and training

Any employee using a power tool/mechanical plant must be provided with information, instruction and training on the use of that plant and on the use, fit, maintenance and storage of RPE provided. 

319X - Cleaning

This regulation prevents the use of compressed air or other compressed gases to clean the engineered stone process work area or a person's clothes - unless the use of that air/gas does not result in respirable crystalline silica which exceed the exposure standard.

Note: as this would be extremely difficult to ensure, compressed air/gas should never by used.

Division 4 - Licensing requirements

319Y Applies in addition to Part 4.1 (Hazardous substances)

319Z - Requirement to hold engineered stone licence

  1. Employers/SEP must hold an engineered stone licence if an engineered stone process is undertaken at the workplace for which they are responsible
  2. A person must not undertake an engineered stone process unless they either hold a licence OR is an employee of a licence-holder
  3. An engineered stone process may be undertaken at another workplace on if it is necessary for installation purposes and it is not reasonably practicable to not do it at the workplace to which the licence relates.

319ZA - Supply of engineered stone

  1. Engineered stone cannot be supplied to a person who requires a licence and does not hold one.
  2. The supplier must record the name and address, the quantity and the licence number of any person to whom engineered stone is supplied
  3. The record must be kept for at least five (5) years

319ZB - Information to job applicants

A employer who is a licence holder must ensure that any applicants for employment at a workplace where an engineered stone process is undertaken are given information about

a - the health risks associated with exposure to crystalline silica dust
b - the need for and details of measures to control those risks

319ZC - An employer who is a licence holder must ensure employees likely to be exposed to risks associated with an engineered stone process are given information, instruction and training in (a) and (b) above, and also in (c) how the risk control measures are to be implemented.

319ZD - Health monitoring

Already under r169 an employer must ensure health monitoring is carried out for employees as crystalline silica is listed in Schedule 9. An engineered stone licence holder must under this regulation ensure the health monitoring is carried out under the supervision of a specialist occupational and environmental physician or a specialist respiratory or sleep medicine physician.

319ZE - Health monitoring and atmospheric monitoring reports

An engineered licence holder must provide a copy of these to the Authority within 30 days of being received.

319ZF - Engineered stone control plan 

  1. A licence holder must prepare an engineered stone control plan before work is undertaken and ensure the work is performed in accordance with that plan
  2. The control plan must:
    • identify the work to be undertaken; and
    • state the hazards and risks; and
    • 'sufficiently' describe measures to control these risks; and
    • describe how the risk control measures are to be implemented; and
    • be set out and expressed in a way that is readily accessible and understandable to the persons who use it.
  3. If work is not performed according to the plan, the employer/SEP must stop that work immediately (or as soon as it's safe to do so) and not resume it until the control plan is complied with or reviewed and if necessary revised.
  4. The plan must be reviewed, and if necessary revised, if there's any indication the measures are not adequately controlling the risks, including if an incident occurs.
  5. A plan is not required if a crystalline hazard control plan has been prepared (r319D), and it addresses the same matters required here.

319ZG - Statement of work

When an employee ceases employment at the workplace, the licence holder must provide a written statement containing the period the employee worked with engineered stone and a statement advising the employee to have periodical health assessments.

Division 5 - Transitional provisions 

This division sets out the arrangements and duties during the transition period, which is from 15 November 2021 to 14 November 2022.

319ZI Basically any person/employer undertaking an engineered stone process must still prepare a control plan, ensure that it is complied with, and review and if necessary revise it (as per r319ZF).

319ZJ Requirement to apply for an engineered stone licence

319ZK 319ZL Matters regarding the time the Authority will take and also waiving of licence application fee

Last amended May 2022