Over the past 12 to 18 months changes have been instituted to mine and quarry dust legislation in Australia. Annually, around 600,000 Australian workers are exposed to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) dust at their occupation. The number at risk can be at least doubled as for every worker there is secondary exposure to a loved one at home via the non-occupational route of clothing. These silica dust particles are 100 times smaller than a grain of sand and are invisible to the naked eye which makes them dangerous once trapped in the lungs. Workplace exposure limits for respirable crystalline silica and coal dust are placed to protect the health of workers, families and communities within the vicinity of mining and quarrying operations. In this article, we unpack the different conversations around mine and quarry dust legislation in Australia.

The timeframes for Australian mine and quarry legislation changes

The tightening of legislative controls has been implemented at different times across the States of Australia, with Victoria as early as December 2019, and Western Australia to be implemented on the 27th of October this year (a week from the writing of this article). Time-weighted average (TWA) and occupational exposure limits (OEL) for respirable coal dust and respirable crystalline silica dust have been reduced across Australia as the country battles with finding ways to minimise the risks associated with dust. Safe Work Australia published workplace exposure standards (WES) for RCS as early as December 2019 for Victoria. These are the dates that have been legislated for effective changes to WES:

  • Victoria: 17 December 2019
  • South Australia: 1 July 2020
  • Queensland (WHS): 1 July 2020
  • Queensland (coal mining, mining and quarrying): 1 September 2020
  • Australian Capital Territory: 1 July 2020
  • Northern Territory: 1 July 2020
  • New South Wales: 1 July 2020
  • Commonwealth: 1 July 2020
  • Western Australia: 27 October 2020

Changes in dust exposure limits across States and Territories

Whilst the timeframes for implementation have varied, the standards each state is setting is fairly uniform across the country.

  1. Victoria

The exposure standard for crystalline silica dust (listed under Quartz (respirable dust)) is 0.05mg/m3 as a TWA (time-weighted average) airborne concentration over 8 hours. WorkSafe Victoria recommends that employees are not exposed to levels above 0.02mg/m3 as a TWA. This is a precautionary measure to prevent silicosis, and to minimise the risk of lung cancer.

  1. South Australia

Effective 1 July 2020, SafeWork SA will implement a nationally agreed reduced workplace exposure limit (or WEL) for respirable crystalline silica to an 8 hour time weighted average of 0.05mg/m3. Studies show that people who have RCS exposure greater than 0.065mg/m3 over their working life have an increased risk of lung cancer. At a lifetime average exposure of 0.06mg/m3, the risk of silicosis is estimated at 7%.

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  1. Queensland

As of 1st September 2020 the RCS TWA OEL will reduce from 0.1 mg/m3 to 0.05 mg/m3 and respirable coal dust TWA OEL will reduce from 2.5 mg/m3 to 1.5 mg/m3. 

  1. Australian Capital Territory

The Morrison Commonwealth is acting to protect Australian workers against the harmful effects of silica dust by reducing the workplace exposure standard (WES) for respirable crystalline silica from 1 July this year. Under the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011 the exposure standard will be halved from an eight-hour time-weighted average of 0.1 mg/m3 to 0.05 mg/m3.

  1. Northern Territory

Respirable Crystalline Silica is a known carcinogen and is listed as a hazardous chemical under the Northern Territory’s work health and safety laws.

  1. New South Wales

The new respirable coal dust workplace exposure standard of 1.5mg/m3 will take effect in NSW from 1 February 2021. Mines and petroleum sites will need to report exceedances of the new exposure standard to the NSW Resources Regulator from 1 February 2021. Respirable silica dust regulatory limits in New South Wales are now set at 0.05 milligrams per cubic metre, respectively.

  1. Western Australia

As mentioned earlier, Western Australia is set to cap its respirable coal dust exposure to 1.5 milligrams per cubic metre starting 27th October 2021, and has halved the respirable silica dust exposure standard to 0.05 milligrams per cubic metre.

  1. Tasmania

The mandatory limit for silica dust exposure in Australia is 0.05mg/m3 averaged over an eight-hour day (except in Tasmania where it is 0.1mg/m3), although the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) have recommended this be limited to 0.025 mg/m3.


What can exposure to coal and silica dust do to me?

Exposure to dust poses risks to the health and safety of workers, their families and communities. There are many acute and chronic health impacts associated with respirable dust, not to mention the safety hazards associated with visibility on roads, intersections and tip points. Some of the potentially deadly diseases associated with respirable dust include:

  • Silicosis.
  • Bronchitis. 
  • Lung cancer.
  • Emphysema. 
  • Kidney failure.
  • Metalliferous dust poisoning. 
  • Progressive massive fibrosis. 
  • Coal mine workers pneumoconiosis.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Where is exposure to dust likely to happen in a mine or quarry?

There are different operations in mines and quarries that generate dust. These different sources of dust and contributing factors vary across the nature of the mine or quarry but most of them are universal:

  • Haul roads – vehicular movements and dust suppression product used.
  • Drilling – machinery used. 
  • Blasting – explosives used and blast pattern design. 
  • Stockpiles – condition of stockpile and nature of product. 
  • Loading and unloading – nature of material and travel distance. 
  • Conveyor and transfer points – type of conveyor belt and material type.
  • Crushing and processing – material proportions and particle size. 
  • Transportation – travel distance and nature of materials. 

Controlling the risk of dust exposure to workers in mines and quarries.

The hope for the industry is that with legislation changes, industry moves from a monitoring to a true dust management focus. GRT’s specialises in controlling the risk of dust exposure to workers in mines and quarries. Different GRT products from our portfolio are available for dealing with dust at its source. These are the GRT products available:  

A matter of life or death.

Each life lost to mine and quarry dust-related diseases due to exposure to RCS and coal dust also incurs decades of progressively worsening health, and quality of life, for sufferers and family members/carers. The social and economic cost is staggering. GRT advocates for dealing with dust at its source. No amount of dust exposure is safe. Prevention is better than cure, as no cure exists and the long term effects of dust exposure are potentially fatal. Let’s move the industry to proactive management of dust, with the goal of eliminating dust as a hazard in mining and quarrying. Speak to the GRT team and hear how we can help you comply with the latest mine and quarry dust legislation changes in Australia.

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