Union in Australia calls for a ban on high-silica engineered quartz

Polishing the edge of a worktop

In Australia a union representing stone workers has called on the government to ban the use of engineered stone to protect its members from silcosis.

Australia has always been hot on tackling the danger of inhaling respirable crystalline silica (RCS) while processing engineered quartz, and now a union is calling on the government to ban it altogether.

Zach Smith , the incoming National Secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining & Energy Union (CFMEU) has said if the federal government does not ban production, importation and use of engineered stone by July 2024, it will ban its members from handling it.

"This product is killing workers and the reality is Australian workers will keep dying unless we ban engineered stone," he told Australia’s ABC News.

Supporting the call is Kyle Goodwin, who was a fit, young worker in a stone worktop company in 2004. Now he's a 37-year-old with silicosis who can't go for a walk without getting out of breath. "You're just suffocating slowly,” he says.

Four years ago he was told he had five years to live. Now he wants the engineered stone he spent many years working to be banned. "This is a preventable illness and we need to make sure that it does not continue to happen," he said.

In 2021 a report by Australia’s National Dust Disease Taskforce said nearly one in four workers exposed to silica dust from engineered stone before 2018 has been diagnosed with silicosis.

The report said existing workplace health & safety regulations had not protected stonemasons and recommended further safety measures should be imposed, although it stopped short of calling for the product to be banned.

Zach Smith says he knows of a number of workplaces that have followed best practice to manage the risk of exposure to silica dust but cases of silicosis have still arisen.

Kate Cole, the President of the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists, likens the risk of exposure to silica to that of asbestos and supports the call for banning products containing high levels of crystalline silica.