Australia to ban engineered stone from next year

Australian ministers will ban engineered stone products from next year, citing long-term health concerns, making it the first country in the world to do so.

According to Australia’s work health and safety ministers, officials today “unanimously” agreed to prohibit the use, supply and manufacture of all engineered stone within “the majority” of Australian jurisdictions. The ban is expected to come into effect on July 1, 2024. Engineered stone surfaces with less than 1% trace levels of crystalline silica will not be affected.

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 cutting these surfaces.

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.

The decision follows announcements from retailers Ikea and Bunnings to ban engineered stone products in their Australian stores earlier this year. Their decisions were in response to a campaign by policy body Safe Work Australia, who argued that “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”.

According to an official communique about the ministers’ decision, the officials “accepted the findings and recommendation” of Safe Work Australia’s proposal to ban engineered stone.

The ministers pointed out that rates of silicosis and silica-related diseases in Australian workers have risen substantially among Australian workers in recent years. They also believe there is no scientific evidence for a safe threshold of crystalline silica content in engineered stone, or that lower silica content engineered stone is safer to work with.

The officials have outlined exceptions to the ban, for activities such as removal, repair, minor modification, and disposal of engineered stone products installed prior to the ban.

Policymakers also expressed a need for a transitionary period for contracts entered into on or before today’s date of December 13, 2023. They plan to settle arrangements for this at another meeting in March 2024, or out of session earlier “if possible”.

In a statement released online, Australia’s commonwealth minister for employment and workplace relations, Tony Burke, commented: “Silica-related diseases have been on the rise and it’s our job to do what we can to protect workers’ lives – and today we’ve done just that. This ban will be in conjunction with the States and Territories – which manage our WHS laws – who have signalled their support for domestic use bans in their jurisdictions”.

In related news, surface brand Caesarstone has issued a statement saying it disagrees with the legal decision, stressing that it believes “the products are safe to fabricate under safe working practices”.

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