Legislative Council: Wednesday, February 22, 2023



The Hon. C. BONAROS (14:48): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Industrial Relations a question about workplace safety audits.

Leave granted.

The Hon. C. BONAROS: On the weekend, 60 Minutes was the latest media outlet to reveal the dangers of silicosis, something that has been raised in here extensively. It is an incurable lung disease linked back to engineered stone used in common kitchen benchtops. The exposé prompted the federal employment and workplace relations minister to warn that a coordinated national response is needed to address the deadly disease, which has been labelled as the asbestosis of the 2020s, with fears of up to 100,000 workers across all trade sectors being diagnosed with silicosis.

For those who aren't aware, silicosis is a lung disease mainly caused by inhaling silica, a mineral commonly found in certain types of rocks or soil. Silica dust is created by cutting, drilling, grinding or polishing certain types of stone, rock, sand and clay. The engineered stone is ground stone combined with resin to make a slab that resembles natural stone such as marble or granite and contains up to 95 per cent silica. Over time, inhaling the dust causes inflammation and scarring of the lung tissue and stiffening of the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. My questions to the minister are:

1. How many inspections, audits and investigations has SafeWork SA undertaken per annum for the last three years on worksites where there is cutting of silica-containing products?

2. What have been the outcomes of these audits, inspections and/or investigations?

3. How many compensation claims have been lodged in relation to exposure in the past three years?

4. How many of those have been accepted and/or rejected?

5. Can the minister provide an update on what it is doing to address the dangers exposed by exposure to silica dust, including discussions with his federal counterpart?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:50): I thank the honourable member for her question; it is a very important question. Next week, there is a meeting of all work health and safety ministers from all jurisdictions around Australia as well as with the federal minister, the Hon. Tony Burke. I will be participating in that meeting, and there have been quite a lot of discussions that have occurred to date.

I know my office has been talking to the federal minister's office almost daily for the last week, mainly about this particular issue. I know that the Australian Council of Trade Unions has made comments and has put views forward. I think it will be if not the first certainly very high up on the agenda for all work health and safety ministers to discuss. Also individual unions in South Australia have raised concerns, as they should.

I know that for some time now South Australia has participated in a national working group looking at the issues related to manufactured stone—related to the manufacture of the stone, the importation of the stone, but most importantly its use in South Australia. I don't want to pre-empt anything that may happen nationally, but it is something where there are aspects that are to do with national laws on importation and other matters of such stone, but also state jurisdictions have a role to play in their occupational health and safety regimes, and this is what we will be discussing next week.

In relation to the specific questions about how many worksite inspections, the outcomes of those, applications for compensation and acceptance and rejection rates, I will ask SafeWork SA for the first half of those and ReturnToWork for the second half of those and, to the extent that our figures are able to be broken down, as the member has requested, bring back a reply for her on those.