Government told to hurry up as retailers stop selling deadly engineered stone

The pressure is on for Tony Burke, along with state and territory ministers, to ban engineered stone.

The pressure is on for Tony Burke, along with state and territory ministers, to ban engineered stone. Photo: AAP

A major Australian union is calling for the government to take urgent action on engineered stone, after the latter was beaten to the punch by Ikea and Bunnings.

On Wednesday, Ikea Australia announced it would begin phasing out engineered stone products from its local range, “ahead of government action”. This came a day after Bunnings revealed it would stop selling its range of engineered stone products from December 31.

“Good on them. I’m expecting a strong national response from every jurisdiction when we meet in a few weeks’ time,” Minister for Industrial Relations Tony Burke told TND.

Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie said it was “really embarrassing” Bunnings had taken action on the issue before the government.

“They’re [Labor] talking about IR laws and making workplaces safe but these guys have been sitting on this report … I just have to say to Tony Burke and the government, are you waiting for us to throw you a sausage sizzle?” she said.

“Seriously. Get on with the job and get this done.”

The moves from the major retailers come after Safe Work Australia recommended a complete ban on all engineered stone in October, citing health risks associated with engineered stone workers’ exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) as a main factor in its decision.

The recommendation was provided to federal, state and territory work health and safety ministers in August, but politicians have yet to reach a consensus on a national engineered stone ban.

The ministers will meet again in December to attempt to come to an agreement.


Workplace health and safety ministers will hold talks to decide whether to ban engineered stone to protect workers. Photo: TND

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union national secretary Zach Smith told TND he doesn’t know what could be delaying national action on the issue.

“The jury’s in, the verdict’s been returned, and the case is very clear that this product needs to be banned,” he said.

“It is good that New South Wales, ACT and … the SA government as well, have said they support a ban.

“However, we need national action … because to effectively ban this product, you need to ban the importation, manufacturing and use of engineered stone, which requires cooperation between both levels of government.”

The inaction at the federal level comes despite state and territory governments such as New South Wales, the ACT, Queensland and Victoria publicly backing a national ban.

South Australia, New South Wales and the ACT have indicated they will instal individual state and territory-wide engineered stone bans if ministers fail to produce a national plan.

Workers handed ‘death sentences’ awaiting action

Engineered stone can be made up of more than 90 per cent RCS, which is significantly greater than the amount found in natural stones.

Exposure to RCS can lead to health issues such as lung cancer and silicosis; the latter leads to the development of scar tissue on the lungs, making breathing difficult, and it is incurable.

Almost one in four engineered stone workers employed in the industry prior to 2018 have been diagnosed with silicosis or other silica dust-related diseases.

Safe Work Australia found there was no evidence of a ‘safe’ threshold of RCS content in engineered stone, or that other chemicals found in engineered stone do not pose a health risk to workers.

Smith said engineered stone is a cosmetic product that’s not integral to the construction process, and could be easily replaced by products such laminate, natural stone and timber.

But companies selling engineered stone are putting their profits ahead of workers lives, and “have blood on their hands” as a result, he said.

“Those diagnoses are death sentences…This is a product that’s killing workers right now,” Smith said.

“You can still have buildings, offices, homes, schools and hospitals without engineered stone being available. So that’s why we’re saying it should be banned.”

“We think that this [national] decision needs to be made at this meeting in December, but we won’t stop campaigning until the decision is made.”

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.