January 4, 2024

Australia’s New Engineered Stone Ban to Begin in July

Australia is set to become the first country to prohibit the use, supply, and manufacture of all engineered stone from July 1, 2024. The decision, which was made during a meeting of the workplace relations and work health and safety ministers on Dec. 13, is based on the recommendation of Safe Work Australia, the agency that develops national policies intended to improve occupational health and safety in the country. Australia’s engineered stone ban is intended to address rising rates of silicosis and silica-related diseases among workers, particularly those in the engineered stone fabrication and installation industries who are disproportionately diagnosed with such diseases.

“When engineered stone is processed, the dust generated has different physical and chemical properties that likely contribute to more rapid and severe disease,” the Australian government’s decision states. “There is no scientific evidence for a safe threshold of crystalline silica content in engineered stone, or that lower silica content engineered stone is safer to work with.”

Manufactured primarily from quartz rock, engineered stone is lighter than products made from natural stone such as granite or marble, and production costs are lower. Engineered stone can contain more than 90 percent crystalline silica content, far higher than the 10 to 45 percent typical with granite, according to a hazard alert (PDF) published by the United States’ OSHA and NIOSH. Engineered stone is a common material found in kitchen and bathroom countertops.

Exceptions to Australia’s ban are set to include the removal, repair, minor modification, and disposal of engineered stone products installed prior to the prohibition. The work health and safety ministers also discussed exclusions for products like concrete and cement, bricks and pavers, porcelain, and ceramic wall and floor tiles. Regulators and Safe Work Australia will develop a process for exempting additional products. According to the decision, future engineered stone products may be exempted from the ban if there is “compelling evidence demonstrating these products can be used safely.”

In the U.S., an enforcement and compliance initiative launched by federal OSHA in September targets silica exposures from engineered stone fabrication and installation. At the state level, Cal/OSHA recently approved an emergency temporary standard to protect stone workers in California from silicosis.

Related: A SynergistNOW blog post from May 2023 discusses engineered stone, silica, and the precautionary principle.