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Nine Manukau precast concrete companies are better equipped to protect nearly 1,000 staff from potential airborne hazards at work, thanks to a WorkSafe New Zealand initiative.
WorkSafe put in place an awareness-raising series of visits to manufacturers to assist them manage health risks associated with airborne hazards for their workers following WorkSafe’s clean air programme launch last year.
A number of risks were identified 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.
“The fact local Manukau companies worked closely with us shows they are committed to doing that,” WorkSafe Manukau Assessment Manager Jason Papuni said.
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 as issues identified in Manukau could be widespread.
“Precast NZ Inc is grateful for WorkSafe’s Manukau team’s assistance in instituting improvements and we hope this signals more working alongside our industry. Precast concrete involves potentially hazardous processes and our members are committed to safe processes.
“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,” Precast NZ Executive Director Rod Fulford said.
WorkSafe is considering options to expand the assessment programme nationwide.
The clean air programme is WorkSafe’s first targeted work-related health intervention. It has so far focused on reducing the risk of respiratory disease caused by exposure to silica and organic solvents in construction and manufacturing. It has also focused on raising awareness of risks from welding fumes, wood dust and carbon monoxide. Its next focus is likely to be on agrichemicals and fertiliser spreading.
Work-related health is about the interaction between a person’s work and their health. 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.