Northconnex stoppage highlights rise in dust diseases – Labor

Northconnex was issued with infringements for breaking workplace safety laws in 2018/19

Work on Northconnex was stopped for four days in September, 2019, following a dangerous dust event, the State Opposition has claimed.

Shadow Minister for Finance and Small Business, Daniel Mookhey, said data obtained from SafeWork NSW showed that NorthConnex and Westconnex were issued 14 infringements between July, 2018, and September, 2019, for breaking workplace safety laws after exposing tunnelling workers to high levels of silica dust.

“Thousands of workers were exposed to deadly silica dust on the NSW Government’s own construction projects,” Mookhey said.

“How can anyone trust the Government on workplace safety when they break their own laws?”

Mookhey said NSW was experiencing an explosive rise in the number of silicosis cases, recording 140 known cases in the last financial year, instead of the historic average of 3-4 cases each year.

“Silicosis is a deadly lung disease caused by high levels of exposure to silica dust,” he said.

“Tunnellers’ lives are potentially at risk when drilling Sydney sandstone.

“The rock is often made of 80 per cent silica.”

Mookhey said the NSW Parliament was debating Labor’s proposals to introduce a mandatory dust diseases register like Queensland’s, which has operated since July 2019.

But Parliamentary Secretary for the Central Coast, Adam Crouch, said the State Government had the strongest workplace health and safety rules and regulations in the country.

“SafeWork inspectors are on sites daily, making sure that workplaces are safe,” he said.

“This includes checking that manufactured stone is being cut safely to prevent the risk of silicosis.

“In the cases of NorthConnex and WestConnex, improvement notices were issued, all of which have been complied with.

“I am advised that this involved SafeWork undertaking its day-to-day business.

“The NSW Government has a robust silicosis strategy in place to stamp out the disease for good.

“Currently there is a Bill before the Parliament to assist in the eradication of silicosis in NSW, and I hope that Labor will support this law reform.”

Terry Collins

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