Engineered stone products linked to silicosis to be banned in Australia

The ban follows a campaign by public health organisations and unions.

The ban follows a campaign by public health organisations and unions. Photo: TND

Australia will become the first country to stop the use of engineered stone products linked to the deadly respiratory disease silicosis, after a meeting between state and federal workplace ministers agreed to a nationwide ban by mid-2024.

Liam O’Brien, ACTU assistant secretary, said a total ban will save lives and put workers’ lives ahead of corporate profits.

“With alternatives readily available, why are we risking the lives of tradies for a fashionable finish in our kitchens?” he said.

“A total ban is the only sensible option and every day that passes is costing lives.”

Zach Smith, CFMEU national secretary, said Australia will be a safer place when the ban is implemented on July 1, 2024.

“This is an incredibly special day for Australian workers, especially for every CFMEU member who fought for this life-saving change,” he said.

“The CFMEU is ready to help governments implement the July 1 ban on the import, manufacture and use of engineered stone.”

The union-driven “Stop this killer stone” campaign called for a national ban on silicosis-causing engineered stone products and CFMEU threatened to ban its use on worksites by the middle of 2024 unless the government acted.

A meeting of federal, state and territory ministers have signed off on a ban on engineered stone. Photo: AAP

Smith said he congratulated Tony Burke and his state counterparts for implementing the import, manufacturing and use of engineered stone ban.

“From the start of this campaign, our union has said we would implement our own ban on July 1,” he said.

“The decision made today means we won’t have to.”

Incurable disease

Following the union campaign, a Safe Work Australia report recommended the ban because of the associated health risks.

Professor Terry Slevin, Public Health Association of Australia CEO, said researchers, clinicians and unions fought for the “important world-leading reform”.

“Most importantly, we thank and recognise the workers themselves, who suffered silicosis and other respiratory conditions, for fighting for the rights of those who follow them, to avoid the same fate,” he said.

“The extreme levels of silica in these products have led to an enormous increase in tradespeople working with these products having their lungs irreparably damaged.”

Several other health bodies – including the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Lung Foundation and the Cancer Council – joined unions in supporting a ban on the products.

Silicosis is a long-term, incurable lung disease that is caused when fine particles of silica enter a person’s lungs.

Silica can be found in types of stone, clay, sand and rock, and is spread into the air when the materials are cut, ground or split.

Exposure can lead to a persistent cough, shortness of breath, weakness and tiredness, respiratory failure and death.

Most at risk

Former stonemason Kyle Goodwin told the ABC that the ban was a “decision a long time in the making”.

“It’s the only decision the Labor government could come to in supporting workers,” he said.

“It’s good to get the result we have been hoping for.”

Stonemasons, stone cutters, construction, demolition, worktop manufacturing and fitting, pottery, glass mining and sandblasting workers have been flagged as high risk because of the materials they come into contact with during their employment.

Slevin said the extreme levels of silica in engineered stone have led to a massive increase in irreparable lung damage.

“Engineered stone is the most obvious and clear example of a dangerous product,” he said.

“There are others. Perhaps less immediate in their impact, perhaps less potent, but still unfairly stealing the good health of honest, hard-working people in Australia.”

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