Engineered stone, a commonly used material in kitchen benchtops, may soon be outlawed in Australian construction projects due to health risks associated with its use. A national review conducted by Safe Work Australia has recommended a potential ban on this material, prompting calls for immediate action from trade unions and health experts.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has already pledged to prohibit the use of engineered stone on building sites across the country by next July if state governments fail to take action. The ACTU argues that there is no safe level of exposure to the harmful dust generated from cutting this type of stone.
While a blanket ban on engineered stone is one option put forward in the Safe Work Australia report, it remains uncertain if governments will fully endorse this measure. Manufacturers and various state governments have expressed reservations about a complete prohibition, leading to divisions in the decision-making process.
In support of the potential ban, a joint investigation by The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, and 60 Minutes earlier this year revealed the increasing number of workers suffering from lung disease silicosis. These workers were frequently exposed to high levels of crystalline silica dust, a carcinogenic substance present in engineered stone.
Given the estimated 275,000 workers in Australia exposed to crystalline silica, commissioning a study into silicosis was imperative. The study, which predicts up to 103,000 workers will be diagnosed with the condition, emphasizes the urgent need for action.
The Safe Work Australia report was handed to government ministers in August, but its contents have been kept under wraps until now. However, ministers will meet this Friday to discuss and potentially release the report to inform public debate.
In conclusion, the potential ban on engineered stone in Australia represents a crucial step in protecting workers from the dangers of crystalline silica exposure. Stakeholders, including trade unions, health experts, and state governments, must work together to ensure the best course of action is taken to safeguard worker health and safety on construction sites.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q: What is engineered stone?
A: Engineered stone is a composite material made from crushed stone bound together by an adhesive. It is commonly used in various construction projects, particularly for kitchen benchtops.
Q: Why is engineered stone being considered for a ban?
A: Engineered stone contains high levels of crystalline silica, which when cut or crushed can produce harmful dust that, when inhaled, can cause health issues, including silicosis, a serious lung disease.
Q: What is silicosis?
A: Silicosis is a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling excessive amounts of crystalline silica dust. It can lead to progressive scarring and stiffening of the lungs, impairing breathing and increasing the risk of other respiratory conditions.
Q: Who supports the ban on engineered stone?
A: Trade unions, health experts, and some state governments are advocating for a ban on engineered stone due to the significant health risks associated with crystalline silica exposure.
Q: Are there alternative materials to engineered stone?
A: Yes, there are alternative materials available for construction projects, such as natural stone or other manufactured stone products with lower crystalline silica content. However, proper safety measures should still be followed to minimize potential risks.