Rogue operators must be ‘shut down immediately’
SHONKY stone-cutting operators paying "ridiculous" money to lure staff to toxic silica worksites should be "shut down immediately".
Derick Brosnan has owned La Rocca Marble since 2011 and is furious that rogue operators who "hadn't bothered" to protect their workers from potentially lethal silica dust were not being penalised by the State Government.
"Shut them down immediately and fine them," said Mr Brosnan.
"They've had two years to get their act together and comply with safety regulations and some haven't even got the basics covered, like having a silica warning sign posted at their entry.
"It's not hard, what they need to do in order to comply is on the SafeWork website.
"I know for a fact there's still so much dry-cutting happening on some sites, because doing it safely is a 45-minute job not of a five-minute job."
A Bulletin investigation in August found the number of young stonecutters being diagnosed in Queensland was increasing by the month.
Authorities know what is killing the young workers but won't ban engineered stone because it is "cheap and mass produced"; workers are scared to lose their jobs by speaking up as it is largely left to employers to ensure staff are screened; and Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) said it would only re-audit the stone benchtop industry - eight months after it was asked to - after inquiries by the Bulletin.
WHSQ has since confirmed it would visit 166 workplaces from Robina to Cairns, including 44 on the Gold Coast.
As of the end of September, 27 workplaces had been inspected and 47 enforcement actions taken. They included 38 improvement notices, one prohibition notice, four priority infringement notices and four immediate compliance directions.
To date, 179 people across Queensland have been diagnosed with the potentially fatal lung disease silicosis.
A WHSQ spokesperson said the industry-wide audit was the third targeted program in as many years, with Queensland taking the lead "nationally in both the identification and its response to this hazard".
The campaign will run until December, with follow-up visits of non-compliant workplaces to be completed by May next year.
Mr Brosnan said he'd spent more than $100,000 getting his Arundel factory compliant with the Code of Practice 2019; it outlines strict health and safety measures the stone benchtop industry must adhere to.
"We've done absolutely everything that's required of us to keep our boys safe, yet those who haven't aren't being penalised for it and need to be. All I want is an even playing field."
Mr Brosnan said getting staff was also difficult because workers were afraid of getting silicosis and asking for "way too much money".
"There are masons paying ridiculous dollars with no safety in mind for staff, but is it worth dying for, for a better pay rate?
"I've had to buy a new machine for $300,000 because I haven't been able to get staff, but what other choice do I have?
"We now ask future employees if they've had their X-rays and/or CT Scan and if they haven't then we can't take them on.
"But so many other employers aren't bothering with this, so how do you know if they have any signs of silicosis if they are not bothering to ask for results?"
Mr Brosnan has also switched to a material that had at least two-thirds less silica than other quartz products.
"Instead of banning engineered stone there should be pressure on suppliers to make surfaces with less silica," he said.
Mr Brosnan said governments should force suppliers of engineered stone that contain up to 94 per cent silica content to "stop selling it and to stop selling to non-compliant stonemasons".
"Businesses should not be allowed to carry out works in this industry unless they carry a certificate of compliance. Only then can we be sure that they are taking safety precautions."
COMPANY'S FIGHT FOR WORKCOVER FAIR GO
OFFICE staff who've spent years in "lunchrooms covered in silica dust" while working in the stone benchtop industry should get free silicosis health screening checks from WorkCover, says Debbie Clark.
Ms Clark, regional manager of La Rocca Marble & Granite, is also trying to fight WorkCover's policy in regards to how it applies claims to employers on confirmation of a positive silicosis case.
"An experienced certified stonemason came to us for a job and we took him on because he was an experienced and qualified tradesperson," she said.
But when the man was diagnosed with silicosis, WorkCover said he was the responsibility of La Rocca because he'd been working there for two days longer than his previous employer.
"It seems unfair all the blame falls on us," Ms Clark said. "We have a compliant workplace and have done the right thing by the staff member and the previous employer gets off scot-free.
"I feel that the history behind these lads should be taken into account."
Ms Clark is a qualified safety manager having completed a nationally recognised Certificate IV in Work Health and Safety. Most importantly, she says she is "passionate about protecting these boys".
"I have worked for other employers in this industry who could not give a toss about staff safety. Boys covered from head to toe in silica dust.
"I would lean on the arm rail to speak with the boys on the floor and my arms and the front of my shirt was literally covered in silica dust, which I simply brushed off and went about my business.
"To make a coffee in the lunchroom covered in silica dust, to move boxes in the back room that were covered in silica dust."
She said office workers should be included in WorkCover's offer of a free health screening check. At present, it is only offered to stonemasons.
"Without a doubt office staff have been consistently exposed to it, some it's been the best part of 15 to 20 years."
A spokesperson from Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) Queensland said under the WHS Regulation 2011, it was the employer's duty to ensure health monitoring was provided to workers.
"Importantly, throughout the Stone Benchtop Code it is recognised that affected workers may include office workers," he said.
"And the code states that other workers who are regularly exposed to respirable crystalline silica at, or exceeding the exposure standard, for example supervisors, maintenance workers, office staff and salespeople, should also be provided with health monitoring."
Originally published as Rogue operators must be 'shut down immediately'