Recent deaths from silicosis should serve as a warning to the entire resource sector within Australia and worldwide, about the danger to workers from exposure to dust pollution while working on mining projects.

Silicosis is being singled out as a potentially greater threat to workers health than coal dust following the recent death of Queensland coal miner Tyrone Buckton. Due to the presence of silica containing hard rock in and around coal seams, the dust produced by mining operations can be doubly hazardous, which is why it is such a threat to those working in the resource sector.

Despite never spending a day underground, Mr Buckton, an open cut coal miner for more than 30 years, passed away in June, less than a year after being diagnosed with the disease in October 2017.

Exposure to silica dust is more pervasive in society than coal as it crosses over from the extractive/processing industry itself into any industry producing or using:

  • Cement and concrete
  • Manufactured or natural stone
  • Quarried materials – rock, sand, road base, asphaltic concrete

This means workers cutting concrete pipes, kitchen benches (recently highlighted at a national level within Australia), saw-cutting roads and floors, handling cement, or even working and driving on unsealed road-base yards and tracks. Uncontrolled airborne dust can then impact on surrounding land-users, communities, livestock, and the environment. That’s why a ‘whole-of-site’ approach is so critical in combatting the impact of dust pollution as its effects can be felt beyond the confines of the project area.

Traditional practices such as watering road surfaces counter-intuitively generate more fine material and degrade roads surfaces quicker. Water is forced into the pore spaces by traffic and pumps the fines to the surface where traffic and wind cause them to become airborne. This loss of fines, which are providing cohesion and binding to the road base, leads to the unsealed surface degrading even faster.

In a crushing or shearing environment, spraying water alone can also be counter-productive as fine dust (such as coal and silica) are hydrophobic so spraying water can just be pushing the dust around – not stripping it out of the air as it is intended to do.

Cases such as Mr Buckton’s and a recent report from the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage about the community concern in relation to the impacts on health and amenity associate with particulate pollution from coal mining in NSW, highlight the need for resource companies to have a fully implemented onsite dust stop pollution reduction program (PRP).

This strategy is focussed on eliminating the risk of dust being generated in the first place, rather than relying on PPE such as dust masks to manage exposure to our staff.

GRT has a range of technologies (chemical and hardware) designed to manage dust across all stages of an operation.

As a business, we are driven by cases such as Mr Buckton’s, because we are out there in the field working with people just like him who are simply doing their jobs. That’s why we are committed to protecting workers by delivering the best products for the task at hand, delivered by a team of experts who are passionate about what they are doing.