Ikea to ban engineered stone products in Australian stores

Swedish homewares giant Ikea has decided it will no longer stock engineered stone surface products in its Australian stores, following concerns that they pose health risks to installers and fabricators.

The decision makes Ikea the latest Australian retailer to announce a ban on the product. It follows DIY retailer Bunnings’s decision to stop selling engineered stone products to customers, which it announced last week.

In recent years, health experts have raised concerns about engineered stone products, which are often used as kitchen and bathroom worktops. Those who manufacture and install them are exposed to the silica dust within the products, which is released when cut into.

Long-term inhalation of the dust is believed to cause silicosis, a currently untreatable condition that can cause a persistent cough, shortness of breath, and in extreme cases, respiratory failure, according to the NHS.

Ikea decided to ban the product after a report was released last month by national policy body Safe Work Australia. The report says that any level of exposure to crystalline silica dust could be harmful to those working with the product.

It argued: “The only way to ensure that another generation of Australian workers do not contract silicosis from such work is to prohibit its use, regardless of its silica content. The cost to industry, while real and relevant, cannot outweigh the significant costs to Australian workers, their families and the broader community that result from exposure to RCS (respirable crystalline silica) from engineered stone.”

Mirja Viinanen, Ikea Australia’s chief executive, released a statement saying that Ikea had been monitoring the issue closely and agreed with Safe Work Australia’s report that a total ban on the product was the only way to ensure safety for installers and fabricators.

“Ikea Australia will begin the process of phasing out engineered stone products from our local range, ahead of government action,” she explained. “We strongly support a nationally-aligned approach from governments to provide clarity and ensure co-ordinated action across the country.”

Aside from just Ikea and Bunnings, Australia’s federal workplace relations minister, Tony Burke, has also said that a response to the Safe Work Australia report is being developed by the country’s government.

Regarding the news, kbbreview has received a statement from the Worktop Fabricators Federation (WFF), a UK non-profit organisation for worktop fabricators who use natural stone or man-made materials. It said: “While the current batch of headlines may be new, the potential risks from respirable dust associated with fabricating stone products have been well understood for decades”. 

The WFF also explained it believes “products containing silica can be processed safely when proper controls are put in place”. It also added that its “members are acutely aware of the dangers surrounding respirable dust and are engaged in instituting and proactively improving appropriate controls”.

“We are very willing to hear, learn and work with anyone who has new ideas, new products or new approaches which can help our members run safer, cleaner processes,” the WFF continued, and concluded by stating its belief that the “safety of [its] workforce” is just as important to the long-term prosperity of the surface industry as “the quality of [its] finished product”.

Ikea has currently not set a date for the stone surface ban to come into effect, although Bunnings has announced it will phase out the products from December 31.

In related news, surface manufacturer Cosentino paid a €1.1 million settlement earlier this year following a court judgement in a silicosis case.

Andy Phillips, the director of fabricator Affordable Granite, also spoke on a recent episode of the kbbreview Podcast about the dangers of silicosis, as well as the current safety precautions available.

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