Safe Work Australia (SWA) released a report on the 27th October 2023, recommending a complete ban on the use of engineered stone in Australia. This decision aims to protect the health and safety of workers from silicosis and other lung diseases caused by exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS).
Engineered stone is a manufactured product that contains high levels of RCS, which is generated when the stone is cut, polished or otherwise processed. RCS can cause silicosis, a progressive and incurable lung disease that can lead to disability and death. Engineered stone workers are significantly over-represented in silicosis cases and are being diagnosed at a much younger age than workers from other industries. SWA found that engineered stone is physically and chemically different to natural stone and poses a greater health risk to workers.
SWA considered three options for regulating engineered stone:
1. Prohibition on the use of all engineered stone
2. Prohibition on the use of engineered stone containing 40% or more crystalline silica
3. Same as option 2, with an accompanying licensing scheme for PCBUs working with engineered stone containing less than 40% crystalline silica.
SWA concluded that there is no toxicological evidence of a safe threshold of RCS content in engineered stone. Hence, Safe Work Australia recommended a blanket ban of the product.
SWA also noted that current laws have not protected workers from the health risks associated with RCS, as there is a persistent lack of compliance with and enforcement of the obligations imposed under work health and safety (WHS) laws across the engineered stone industry.
Based on stakeholder consultation, independent economic analysis, and an expert review of evidence, SWA recommended a prohibition on the use of all engineered stone, irrespective of RCS content, as the only option that would effectively eliminate the risk of silicosis and other silica-related diseases for workers. SWA provided the report to Commonwealth, state and territory WHS ministers on the 16th August 2023 for their consideration. While WHS ministers are yet to make a decision on the recommendation, they have agreed SWA publish the report ahead of their decision.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) welcomed the SWA recommendation and urged all governments to introduce it at the earliest opportunity. ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien said that the recommendation would save lives and that silicosis and silica-related diseases pose an unacceptable health risk to workers. He said that there is no type of engineered stone that is safe for workers and that keeping this deadly product legal means more workers getting health problems and more workers dying. He also welcomed the decision earlier this year of WHS ministers to introduce stronger silica rules covering all work.
Prohibition on the use of engineered stone – report published by Safe Work Australia, 27th October, 2023.
Safe Work Australia’s recommendation will save lives says ACTU by ACTU, 27th October, 2023.