Australia becomes first nation to ban engineering stone

Engineered stone

australia, engineered stone, queensland,

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Australia becomes the first nation to ban the use of all engineered stone starting from 1 July 2024, helping to protect workers from the lung disease silicosis.

Queensland’s longstanding campaign to ban the use of engineered stone has culminated in a national ban on the dangerous product.

Commonwealth, State and Territory leaders agreed to the national ban at today’s Industrial Relations Ministers Meeting.

The ban will take effect in Queensland, along with the majority of state and territories from 1 July, 2024.

Queensland first put a proposed ban on the national agenda in 2018 in response to escalating health impacts on workers, including silicosis, caused by the use of engineered stone.

“Queensland is extremely proud to have led a national campaign which has culminated in a ban on the use of engineered stone,” says Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace.

“This is a dangerous product that’s known to cause the potentially fatal disease silicosis, and it has no place in our workplaces,” says Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace.

“All workers have a right to turn up to a safe and healthy workplace and I’m proud to be part of a government which has helped deliver this key measure to protect workers.”

“Major retailers including Bunnings and IKEA have already announced they will phase out sales of engineered stone and I encourage other retailers to follow their example.”

“Queensland also led the nation in establishing labour hire licensing and I wholeheartedly welcome a harmonised national about hire licensing scheme.”

“I want to thank commonwealth Workplace Relations Minister Tony Bourke and the Albanese Government for working with the States and Territories to deliver these important outcomes,” says Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace.

The Commonwealth has also flagged it will put in place a complementary customs prohibition on engineered stone to provide an additional layer of enforcement and deterrence at the border.

At the meeting, Ministers also agreed to implement a harmonised national labour hire licensing scheme, with the draft intergovernmental agreement and funding to establish the scheme to be further considered by Ministers in mid-2024.

Queensland’s action on engineered stone:

  • Audited all known engineered stone benchtop fabricators.
  • Screened over 1,000 workers under Queensland’s WorkCover scheme.
  • Implemented Australia’s first code of practice for the engineered stone industry in 2019.
  • Implemented Australia’s first code of practice for silica in the construction industry on 1 May this year.
  • Established Australia’s first Dust Lung Disease register in July 2019.
  • Allocated $5 million for dust lung research.

Source: © The State of Queensland 1997–2023 (Department of the Premier and Cabinet)

Victoria

The Allan Labor Government will also ban the use of all engineered stone in Victoria from July 2024 to protect workers from the devastating lung disease silicosis.

Minister for WorkSafe and the TAC Danny Pearson joined his Commonwealth, state and territory counterparts in agreeing to implement a national ban on the deadly product.

Victoria led the nation in introducing the toughest regulations and the country’s first licensing scheme for businesses working with crystalline silica, and now work will start to enact a ban on engineered stone through changes to occupational health and safety laws.

Businesses and consumers are asked not to enter into contracts for engineered stone products from 1 January 2024, given the contracts may not be able to be legally fulfilled. Ministers agreed to consider at a meeting in early 2024 if there will be a need for a period of transition for contracts entered into before today.

From 1 July 2024, Victorian employers will no longer be permitted to carry out work involving the manufacturing, supply, processing or installation of engineered stone. The Commonwealth Government has also confirmed an intention to ban the importation of the product, providing further protections.

An exception to Victoria’s prohibition of all engineered stone will apply if the work involves the removal, repair or minor modification of product installed in a premises before 1 July 2024. This work will be subject to existing control requirements for engineered stone and additional high-risk crystalline silica work regulations.

Until the ban takes effect, Victoria’s existing laws in relation to exposure to crystalline silica dust and working with engineered stone will continue to protect workers.

Victoria established its Silica Action Plan in 2019 with a range of actions aimed at preventing exposure to crystalline silica dust and providing early intervention and support for affected workers.

This included the establishment of Australia’s only dedicated public hospital occupational respiratory clinic through a partnership between WorkSafe and The Alfred.

The national ban follows a report by Safe Work Australia that recommended a prohibition on the use of all engineered stone, regardless of crystalline silica content.

Safe Work Australia’s report found that the high levels of respirable crystalline silica generated from working with engineered stone are likely to contribute to more rapid and severe disease and that there is no evidence of a safe threshold of silica content.

“No one should be exposed to fatal risks simply by going to work. It’s just unacceptable,” says Minister for WorkSafe and the TAC Danny Pearson.

“We led the way with regulation and licensing in Victoria and now a national ban will ensure workers are protected from this shocking disease,” says Minister for WorkSafe and the TAC Danny Pearson.

The report defines engineered stone as an artificial product that contains crystalline silica; is created by combining natural stone materials with other chemical constituents such as water, resins or pigments; and undergoes a process to become hardened.

Several specific products will be expressly excluded from the definition of engineered stone including concrete and cement products; bricks, pavers and other similar blocks; ceramic and porcelain wall and floor tiles; roof tiles; grout, mortar and render; and plasterboard.

Source: © State Government of Victoria

Western Australia

The Cook Government announced that they will join the rest of the country in banning the use of engineered stone in workplaces due to the risk to workers of silicosis. The ban will take effect from July 1, 2024 in Western Australia.

Safe Work Australia recently reported that it could not identify a safe level of silica in engineered stone, concluding that the use of all engineered stone should be banned across Australia.

Western Australia has recorded 48 cases of silicosis since 2018, and 43 of these involve workers employed in the engineered stone industry. This information is based on reports to WorkSafe, as there is no mandatory reporting of silicosis cases at present.

The Cook Government considers this information as indicative of the risks of working with engineered stone and has therefore made the decision that WA will join other jurisdictions in banning the use of engineered stone.

Workplace Relations Ministers have also endorsed a nationally harmonised labour hire scheme, with the model developed by the Labour Hire Harmonisation Working Group consisting of representatives from all States and Territories.

The scheme will ensure a nationally consistent labour hire system with recognition of licences across all jurisdictions.

Ministers agreed in principle for Victoria to be the host jurisdiction for the scheme, and it will be responsible for passing model laws that will be implemented in the States and Territories through mirror or applied legislation.

“The rate of silicosis illness in Australia for those working with engineered stone is unacceptable. This prohibition will ensure future generations of workers are protected from silicosis associated with working with engineered stone,” says Industrial Relations Minister Simone McGurk.

“We recognise there will be businesses and consumers who have already entered into contracts to obtain engineered stone products, and transitional arrangements will be implemented for those with an existing contract.

“The State Government is strongly committed to comprehensive national labour hire regulation. This initiative will ensure a level playing field for business and address worker exploitation,” says Industrial Relations Minister Simone McGurk.

States and Territories will form a working group to develop an Intergovernmental Agreement for the scheme, and Victoria will form a project office to manage the establishment of the National Labour Hire Regulator and the model laws.

Source: © Government of Western Australia 2017 to 2023

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