Caesarstone has a point in its identification of the root cause for silicosis deaths

Engineered stone manufacturers are, understandably, not happy with Australia’s proposed ban on their silicosis-generating products. Some home builders have also expressed dissatisfaction. They are often ignoring the reason for the ban – the unnecessary deaths of workers – although at least one argument has merit.

In an article by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Caesarstone, the major supplier of engineered stone to Australia, identified what it sees as the real causes of silicosis risks:

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Australia is the first nation to ban engineered stone due to worker health concerns

The heads of Australian work health and safety authorities have decided to ban engineered stone from the middle of 2024. Some will seed this as a win for the trade union movement ( the unions certainly will), but many occupational health and safety and industrial hygiene professionals have been leading the way in obtaining the research evidence that made this decision such an easy one to make.

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Engineered stone is unsafe at any level

Safe Work Australia has recommended:

“a prohibition on the use of all engineered stone, irrespective of crystalline silica content, to protect the health and safety of workers.”

So that should be it. No more engineered stone products for use in Australia. Apparently, that decision is difficult to make even though the top occupational health and safety (OHS) advisory body in Australia recommends prohibition. OHS has always had an uncomfortable mix of morality, law and politics. Engineered stone and its inherent silicosis risks are a good illustration of the tensions between these three elements.

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Softly, Softly, Catch the Monkey

As with most political party conferences, occupational health and safety (OHS) is a fringe issue. OHS or safety is sometimes mentioned in the big political speeches but often as an afterthought or obligatory mention that is rarely explored to the extent it deserves. The Australian Labor Party (ALP) recently held its national conference in Brisbane. Work health and safety was mentioned.

The ALP Conference is not intended to change Australian government policies. Its aim is to review and revise the ALP Party platform; it drops what may be redundant and improves the policy platform’s relevance. The conference may indicate party member concerns to the parliamentary members, but the government’s positions are for the parliamentary members to decide.

It should come as no surprise that the ALP has again refrained from banning the import and use of engineered stone even though the silicosis risks are well-established.

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Commitment Interruptus on engineered stone

Trade unionists in the United Kingdom have a similar battle over the safe exposure limits to silica dust that Australia “resolved” a few years ago. It should not be long before the UK pushes for a ban on the import of engineered stone or starts arguing over the safety of the product when silica content is reduced to 40%.

Some recent parliamentary argy-bargy in Australia over the cutting of engineered stone was illustrative of some of the issues and lobbying.

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The continuation of engineered stone can no longer be supported

The Housing Industry Association (HIA) is an effective government lobbyist for its members who can be relied on to make a submission to whatever opportunity the governments offer. The HIA does not provide details of membership numbers or names, but it does list its sponsors and partners. Recently HIA made a submission on “the prohibition on the use of engineered stone”. Its position held few surprises.

Perhaps also unsurprising is Kate Cole’s justification for a ban on engineered stone.

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