As calls to ban engineered stone grow louder, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) welcomes the agreement by governments to release a new Safe Work Australia report ahead of a “national response”.
“As a member of Safe Work Australia (SWA), we have been seeking the release of the embargoed DRIS [Decision Regulation Impact Statement: Prohibition on the use of engineered stone] since it was finalised to enable further discussions with our industry members and other stakeholders,” ACCI Director of Safety Policy Jennifer Low says.
“Given the wide-ranging implications of any decision to the building and construction industry, it is critical that consultation continues up to, and beyond a decision being made.”
“Our focus now is to work with our members, government and union stakeholders through SWA to devise a workable solution that will achieve the goal of reducing high risk exposure to RCS [respirable crystalline silica] when using engineered stone products.”
Silicosis is a deadly lung disease caused by breathing in tiny bits of silica, which is found in things like sand, stone, concrete and mortar, and used today to make products such kitchen and bathroom benchtops, bricks and tiles.
According to a 2021 report by the Government’s National Dust Disease Taskforce, nearly one in four workers exposed to silica dust from engineered stone before 2018 have been diagnosed with silicosis or other silica dust-related diseases. This number is predicted to rise, most notably among young men.
In August, a Safe Work Australia report recommended prohibiting the use of engineered stone.
The recommendation for a prohibition is based on:
- Engineered stone workers exposed to 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.
- Engineered stone is physically and chemically different to natural stone. The high levels of RCS generated by working with engineered stone, as well as the differing properties of RCS, are likely to contribute to more rapid and severe disease.
- 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.
- Silicosis and silica-related diseases are preventable. However, a persistent lack of compliance with, and enforcement of, the obligations imposed under WHS laws across the engineered stone industry at all levels have not protected workers from the health risks associated with RCS.
Whilst the debate is ongoing on the future of products containing silica, there is a requirement for all workplaces to manage the exposure to silica dust.
Our qualified workplace health and safety experts provide cost-effective solutions to manage your WHS needs, reduce the risk to your workers and help you meet WA’s WHS laws. Email [email protected] or call (08) 9365 7746.