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Australia’s landmark ban on engineered stone – protecting workers from silicosis

Australia’s landmark ban on engineered stone – protecting workers from silicosis

Published on January 8, 2024 by Tim GauciTim Gauci

In a pivotal move to safeguard the health of its workers, Australia has banned the use of engineered stone, effective from 1 July 2024 in most states and territories. This landmark decision stems from mounting concerns regarding the detrimental health impacts of engineered stone on workers, primarily due to its association with silicosis, a potentially fatal lung disease caused by inhaling of silica dust. This article looks at what engineered stone is and what the ban might mean for the industry moving forward.

What is engineered stone?

Engineered stone, a popular material in the building, construction, and renovation industry, has gained widespread use in recent years for its durability, aesthetic appeal, and versatility. Composed mainly of quartz, it has been favoured for kitchen countertops, bathroom vanities, and various other applications in both residential and commercial settings. However, this seemingly innocuous material has been linked to severe health hazards related to the inhalation of crystalline silica dust during its fabrication and installation.

What is silicosis and why the link from engineered stone?

Silicosis, an incurable lung disease caused by prolonged inhalation of silica dust, has emerged as a critical concern among workers in the stone fabrication, construction and building industry. Engineered stone, when cut, ground, or polished, releases hazardous silica particles into the air, exposing workers to significant health risks. Silicosis can manifest in various forms, from chronic to accelerated and acute, severely compromising respiratory function and, in some cases, leading to death.

Australia’s decision to ban the use of engineered stone reflects a proactive approach toward prioritising the health and well-being of its workers. By implementing this ban, the government aims to mitigate the potential risks associated with silica exposure by preventing further cases of silicosis and safeguarding the health of those employed in the building and construction and stonemasonry sectors.

However, while this ban addresses a critical concern, it also presents multifaceted implications for various stakeholders within the industry. Businesses involved in the production and installation of engineered stone may face significant challenges in adapting to alternative materials and production methods. Additionally, there may be economic ramifications, including potential job losses and adjustments in the supply chain which may take sometime to readjust and to be adequately understood.

Transitioning away from engineered stone will require concerted efforts and investments in research and development to identify safer alternatives that meet both aesthetic and functional requirements. Natural stone, solid surface materials, and other innovative substitutes may emerge as viable options, but their adoption will necessitate industry-wide collaboration and adaptation in addition to safe guarding against other dust-related illness caused by exposure to various dusts.

Moreover, stringent enforcement and compliance of workplace health and safety regulations will be paramount to protect workers from exposure to silica dust, and other dusts regardless of the alternate materials used. Implementing comprehensive safety protocols, providing adequate training, and ensuring the use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) will be essential in preventing the ongoing occupational hazards associated with silica and other dust exposure.

The ban on engineered stone in Australia

The ban on engineered stone in Australia echoes global efforts to address occupational health risks associated with silica exposure. Similar concerns have prompted actions and regulations in various countries worldwide, underscoring the urgency of prioritising worker safety within the construction and stone fabrication industries. Australia will look to ban the import of all engineered stone to provide an additional layer of enforcement and deterrence but a date for implementation of this ban is still to be worked out at a later time.

While the ban signifies a significant step forward in protecting workers’ health, it also highlights the imperative for ongoing research, education, and policy initiatives to address occupational health hazards comprehensively. Collaborative efforts among government agencies, industry stakeholders, healthcare professionals, and advocacy groups will be instrumental in shaping effective policies and practices aimed at ensuring a safe and healthy work environment for all moving forward.

Australia’s decision to ban the use of engineered stone from 1 July 2024 in most states and territories reflects a commendable commitment to safeguarding workers from the hazards of silica exposure and silicosis. This proactive measure underscores the importance of prioritising occupational health and safety and calls for concerted efforts to explore safer alternatives and enforce stringent regulations. By prioritising the well-being of its workers, Australia sets a precedent for proactive measures in addressing occupational health risks, fostering a safer and healthier work environment for all people.

If you or someone you know is suffering from a dust-related disease, or has died as a result, seeking legal advice and guidance is crucial to ensure that your rights and entitlements are protected. Contact us at Carroll & O’Dea Lawyers on 1800 059 278 or via our Contact Page and one of our lawyers will assist you. You can also complete our Personal Injury Claim Check here.

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