A united front of unions and health groups is demanding a blanket ban on engineered stone products, regardless of the concentration of deadly silica, in a stance that puts them at odds with the business lobby over the workplace epidemic spurred by the installation of shiny kitchen benchtops.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions and construction union CFMEU want a licensing scheme for the handling or removal of all existing benchtops. The latter also wants all tradies dealing with manufactured stone listed on a national register and screened for the lung disease silicosis.
But as the government considers a complete ban on engineered stone, one of the world’s major suppliers will launch an advertising blitz to convince the construction industry and home owners to buy its 40 per cent crystalline silica slabs, despite the ACTU, Cancer Council and occupational hygienists warning there is no evidence it is safe.
In its submission to Safe Work Australia’s probe of the ban, the ACTU said engineered stone benchtops were a “fashion item” rather than an essential building material.
“Engineered stone is a fashion product that is killing the workers who make it. With alternatives readily available, why are we risking the lives of tradies for a fashionable finish in our kitchens?” ACTU assistant secretary Liam O’Brien said.
The unions say a full ban should be kept in place until independent, peer reviewed research could determine what exposure level was safe for stonemasons and other tradespeople.
The Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists recommended engineered stone containing more than 10 per cent crystalline silica be banned as it would probably keep silica dust exposure levels to acceptable workplace standards, but supported a blanket ban as products at that level still weren’t “without risk”.
Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke has given Safe Work until August to outline the implications of a potential ban on engineered stone following an investigation by , and that found states’ regulatory regimes were doing little to stop tradespeople contracting irreversible and debilitating damage to their lungs.
CFMEU national secretary Zach Smith warned Burke that if a ban wasn’t implemented by mid-2024, his members would refuse to touch engineered stone. “I know some of the companies responsible for this scourge will try to use this process to water down regulation, but the government must hold firm,” he said.
Consentino, a prolific supplier of kitchen benchtops in Australia, will broadcast ads across television, streaming services, newspapers and even cinemas to spur the take-up of its 40 per cent crystalline silica products.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry opposes a blanket ban on engineered stone as well as a licensing scheme for suppliers, arguing all products have some level of risk and “it is detrimental to shift thinking towards a defining line or label of ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’“.
However, the chamber also backs a ban on engineered stone with more than 40 per cent silica – as it was consistent with Victorian regulations – with a licensing exemption for “minor” work, including the removal or maintenance of benchtops.
( Information from politico.com was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )