WorkSafe initiative promotes cleaner air for concrete workers

Friday, 01 September, 2017

The risks posed by airborne hazards at work have been identified for precast concrete companies in New Zealand.

A WorkSafe New Zealand clean air awareness campaign was conducted with nine Manukau companies, designed to help them manage health risks and protect their workers.

A number of risks were identified during WorkSafe visits, including:

  • high potential for long- and short-term exposure to respirable dust including silica for operational workers;
  • deficient controls around respirable dust, including silica dust, in the workplace;
  • poor understanding of duties to measure respirable dust including silica exposure levels;
  • poor controls around the use of hazardous substances.

Once the risks were identified, WorkSafe inspectors worked with the respective workplaces to put in place new procedures and improve access to information to enable workers to go about the daily tasks in a safer environment.

“The Manukau Inspectorate identified potential risks for our local pre-cast concrete industry and its workers. It was important for us to work collaboratively with them to raise awareness about the health issues and share learnings so local industry had a better idea how to protect its workforce’s health,” said WorkSafe Manukau Assessment Manager Jason Papuni.

“The fact local Manukau companies worked closely with us shows they are committed to doing that.”

Business and worker awareness was particularly low for silica dust contamination prevention outside work — for example, in cars and homes.

The initiative was welcomed by the national precast industry, which believes the entire industry could benefit from the initiative.

“Precast concrete involves potentially hazardous processes and our members are committed to safe processes,” said Precast NZ Executive Director Rod Fulford.

“The approach of WorkSafe’s Manukau office to work collaboratively with industry to understand the processes and develop practical improvements was a significant change from the ‘there is the law; it is your responsibility to interpret and apply it’ approach of old.”

WorkSafe is considering options to expand the assessment program nationwide.

An estimated 600–900 people die in New Zealand from work-related disease every year. While a work-related injury is immediately visible, the effects of exposure to a work-related health hazard may not become visible for days, weeks, months or even decades.

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