Australia prohibits use of engineered stone

Within the past seven days, Safe Work Australia CEO Marie Boland has issued a statement surrounding the prohibition of engineered stone under the model WHS (work health safety) laws to protect thousands of workers from respirable crystalline silica. However, until the new legislation comes into effect, workers and businesses can continue to work with engineered stone in a controlled way, as detailed in the model WHS Regulations.

Exposure to silica dust from engineered stone has led to a rapid increase in the number of workers developing the serious lung disease silicosis in Australia and Safe Work Australia will now draft amendments to the model WHS Regulations. The amendments will then be implemented in each jurisdiction’s WHS laws. Safe Work Australia will also develop a national framework to ensure anyone working with engineered stone products installed prior to the prohibition is doing so safely.

Boland said: "Workplace exposure to respirable crystalline silica has led to an unacceptable increase in the number of cases of silicosis and other silica-related diseases. Expert analysis shows that silica dust from engineered stone poses unique hazards and there is no evidence that low silica engineered stone is safe to work with. This prohibition will make Australian workplaces safer and healthier."

Following this, in the US, the Los Angeles Times reported that: "the deaths of young workers who cut kitchen and bathroom countertops prompted a state board to back emergency safety measures Thursday aimed at preventing silicosis, an incurable lung disease that has risen along with the booming popularity of engineered stone."

The article cites goes on to state that site regulators estimated that 800 of the industry’s more than 4,000 workers could end up with silicosis if California failed to take protective action with up to 160 likely to die of the disease.

It is expected that these temporary rules adopted by the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board will be introduced by the end of December 2023 and will aim to provide clear requirements for workplaces using engineered stone. These rules include: the use of water during stone cutting; the provision of RPE; banning of sweeping dry dust that may contain silica and a mandate requiring the employer to report any cases of respiratory disease – and in cases where premises are deemed too dangerous for workers, operations will be shut down.