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AWU welcomes Safe Work recommendation to ban engineered stone

November 2, 2023

The Australian Workers’ Union has welcomed a recommendation by Safe Work Australia for a total ban on all engineered stone, to protect workers from the deadly silica dust associated with its use.

The recommendation follows a long-running campaign by the AWU to end silica dust exposure in the workplace. Silica dust is responsible for a dramatic increase in silicosis, a fatal, but preventable lung disease. Workers who process engineered stone—a common material often used for kitchen benchtops—make up the vast majority of silicosis cases identified in recent years, Safe Work Australia said in a report released last week.

AWU National Secretary Paul Farrow says a ban on engineered stone is long overdue, and calls on state and federal ministers to implement it urgently before more workers contract silicosis.

“Our message has not changed over the past three years,” he says. “These workers are dying for a fashion product. It is the duty of every Work Health and Safety Minister to do everything they can to prevent this from happening.

“A ban on engineered stone is the right thing to do and will save the lives of hundreds of stonemasons. We cannot allow another generation of workers to suffer from this terrible illness.”

A ban on engineered stone is supported by federal Minister for Workplace Relations Tony Burke, NSW Premier Chris Minns, and the governments of South Australia, Victoria and Queensland. The government is currently working with the states and territories on a national response, with Work Health and Safety Ministers due to meet later this year to decide next steps, Mr Burke says.

About the Safe Work Australia report

Earlier this year, WHS Ministers agreed to establish new nationwide laws to mitigate silica dust exposure among a number of industries, including tunnelling, quarrying, construction and mining and tasked Safe Work Australia to investigate the impact of a ban on the use of engineered stone.

Safe Work published the results of its investigation on 27 October. The report recommended a ban on the use of all engineered stone, irrespective of crystalline silica content, to protect the health and safety of workers. It found that:

  • Engineered stone workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) are significantly over-represented in silicosis cases. Engineered stone workers are being diagnosed with silicosis at a much younger age than workers from other industries.
  • There is no toxicological evidence of a ‘safe’ threshold of crystalline silica content in engineered stone, or that other chemicals found in engineered stone do not pose a health risk to workers.

You can read the full report here. 

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