January 23, 2024

Crushing the Threat: Australia Takes a Stand to Outlaw Engineered Stone

Article by Sherwin Sape

Cutting Granite

     In specific Australian regions, the silicosis outbreak has reached alarming levels, with one in four benchtop fabricators being diagnosed with the condition. Safe Work Australia, responsible for national workplace health and safety policies, is currently soliciting feedback on the potential prohibition of engineered stone. The Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists (AIOH) has submitted its consultation document, detailing the issue’s nature. It explores diverse ban variations, such as a potential 40 percent silica content cutoff, delves into emissions beyond silica, emphasizes manufacturers’ product stewardship, and examines industry compliance practices. The AIOH contends that the evidence strongly supports banning engineered stone, asserting that determining a “safe” silica content percentage is not feasible. The AIOH argues that selecting a percentage would necessitate extensive government regulation and oversight. Additionally, the AIOH highlights emissions like amorphous silica, resins, volatile organic compounds, pigments, and metals from engineered stone fabrication. They stress that adjusting crystalline silica content for compliance may alter other components’ formulations, impacting toxicology in unassessed ways. Recognizing the hierarchy of controls and the need for elimination, AIOH takes a bold stance aligned with the precautionary principle to address the rising silicosis cases among young workers exposed during the product’s production.

      In recent times, attention has been drawn to concerns regarding occupational health and safety, specifically within industries dealing with engineered stone. WorkSafe Victoria’s decision to prohibit the use of crystalline silica in this sector has initiated discussions, shedding light on potential hazards associated with the material. This blog post aims to explore the ongoing issue, detailing the reasons behind the ban and providing valuable resources for businesses and workers affected by the regulation.

     Effective July 1, 2024, Victorian employers are prohibited from engaging in activities related to the manufacturing, supply, processing, or installation of engineered stone. Until this date, the existing Occupational Health and Safety laws in Victoria about exposure to silica dust or working with engineered stone, along with corresponding employer responsibilities, will remain in force. Individuals holding an engineered stone license will find it valid until the enforcement of the ban.

Understanding the Ban:

Crystalline silica, a naturally occurring mineral present in various materials, including engineered stone commonly used in kitchen and bathroom countertops, has led to significant health risks due to prolonged exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust. WorkSafe Victoria has implemented a ban on the use of crystalline silica in the manufacturing and handling of engineered stone, recognizing the severity of health concerns and the potential for respiratory diseases such as silicosis.

Key Concerns and Risks:

The primary health risk associated with inhaling crystalline silica dust is silicosis, a progressive and irreversible lung disease. Workers in the engineered stone industry face increased vulnerability due to high dust levels during fabrication and installation processes. The ban aims to safeguard workers from these occupational hazards and establish a safer working environment.

Resources for Businesses and Workers:

Compliance with the WorkSafe Victoria ban requires access to reliable information and resources. Various organizations and regulatory bodies offer guidance and support for affected businesses and workers.

WorkSafe Victoria Website:

The official WorkSafe Victoria website serves as a comprehensive resource hub, providing detailed information on the ban, compliance guidelines, and updates on regulatory changes. Essential documents and tools are available to help employers and workers meet safety standards.

Conclusion:

WorkSafe Victoria’s ban on crystalline silica in engineered stone signifies a significant commitment to prioritizing the health and safety of industry workers. Businesses and workers must stay informed, utilize available resources, and adopt best practices to successfully navigate this regulatory landscape. By doing so, collective efforts can contribute to a safer working environment and protect the well-being of those involved in the engineered stone sector.

https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/silica
https://www.cancer.org.au/cancer-information/causes-and-prevention/workplace-cancer/silica-dust
https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/silicosis/learn-about-silicosis

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