Engineered stone is found in household kitchens. It contains a mineral called called silica.
Safe Work Australia has called for a total ban on it. Here’s why.
Calls to ban silica
The public agency responsible for work health and safety has recommended a nationwide ban on crystalline silica.
Silica dust is a dangerous substance that can cause irreversible and deadly lung damage for construction workers who come into contact with it.
Safe Work Australia was tasked with investigating new steps to limit silica exposure in February. Its report, released earlier this week, called for a total ban of engineered stone products.
What is silica?
Silica is a mineral found in sand, stone, concrete, and mortar. It’s been used by construction workers and labourers to make man-made slabs of engineered stone.
Engineered stone has become a popular and more affordable alternative to natural stone (like marble or granite) in the construction of bathrooms and kitchens.
When engineered stone is cut, drilled and polished, the dust particles it generates contain crystalline silica, which is dangerous to inhale.
When lodged deep in the lungs, silica dust can cause silicosis — a disease characterised by the scarring of the lungs.
Silicosis can develop within weeks of exposure to silica dust. The dust can also result in lung cancer, kidney damage and autoimmune disease.
A 2022 study by Curtin University estimated there were over 580,000 Australian workers being exposed to silica dust. Worldwide, silicosis has been estimated to contribute to 10,400 deaths.
The risk of silica
Silica products like stone benches don’t pose a safety risk once installed.
Work, health and safety ministers from each Australian government collectively decided to pursue greater silica regulations in February.
The Australian construction workers’ union had previously committed to banning their members from using engineered stone by July 2024.
Safe work response
In a report handed down on Friday, Safe Work recommended a total ban on engineered stone. It said this was the only way to ensure the safety and health of Australian workers.
The report presented three options, including a ban, to address the risk of crystalline silica in Australia.
It also discussed protective regulations and a partial ban on engineered stone with silica content.
The recommendation by Safe Work won’t automatically result in a ban on engineered stone. That will be up to individual governments.
Federal, state and territory governments will meet again this year to determine next steps.