WorkSafe targets its effort based on levels of risk. Our harm-prevention activity is focused on common risks across industries, specific higher-risk industries, and lifting health and safety capabilities in all businesses.

In early 2019 when the emerging health issue of exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) in the engineered stone industry came to light, we set up an organisation-wide team to ensure a joined up approach to how we respond and equip businesses and workers with prevention information and guidance.

Understanding and working with engineered stone PCBUs

We compiled a nationwide list of engineered stone businesses, and collected and analysed data on each business and their business practices. We are also considering wider data/research needs with other agencies and health specialists as part of the joint agency work developing and implementing the accelerated silicosis assessment pathway.

We visited every known business working with engineered stone between July and October 2019. Second visits are now underway with inspectors specially trained to:

  • ensure businesses understand respirable crystalline silica dust risks to health
  • undertake risk assessment to ensure effective workplace controls continue to be in place
  • advise on using competent exposure and health monitoring advisers
  • issue notices where necessary to improve workplace practices 
  • provide workers and businesses with information about the health assessment pathway and how to get a health check.

Technical expertise

A new suite of exposure monitoring and health monitoring guidance for engineered stone and other industries is being developed, with publication expected in early 2021.

A silicosis-specific learning module (with specific references to accelerated silicosis) has been added to new inspector cohort training.

Awareness and education

We released a safety alert on the dangers of working with engineered stone in the first half of 2019 which has been updated as more information has come to light. Relevant guidance and education materials have been updated and developed and published on our website. Some key dust guidance has also been translated into eight languages.

A generic presentation about risks around RCS dust was developed last year and shared with key stakeholders, and a short video explaining the risks of working with engineered stone was published on our website for external stakeholders to share and distribute. It has also been promoted on our newsletter platform and social channels.

Engagement with industry

WorkSafe worked with the manufacturing sector to establish an industry association or health and safety group to address engineered stone risks in that industry. The New Zealand Engineered Stone Advisory Group was established in July 2019 and is supporting its members that supply engineered stone by developing an accreditation programme for their customers. We have also worked with engineered stone importers and suppliers, and briefed engineered stone retailers, retailers of cooktop appliances and trade associations on the risk to workers making modifications to benchtops.

Joint industry/WorkSafe guidance is also planned for businesses using vacuum methods for controlling hazardous dusts.

Working with occupational health professionals

We have worked with occupational health professionals through our role on the accelerated silicosis assessment pathway, and also actively looked for engagement and learning opportunities with occupational health professional groups such as the New Zealand Occupational Health Nurses Organisation and New Zealand Occupational Hygiene Society, and with Occupational Physicians.