Australia becomes the first country to ban engineered stone

by | Dec 21, 2023

Following the recent announcements of several individual companies, including Independent Hardware Group (IHG), Bunnings, and IKEA, the Australian federal government has announced a nationwide ban on engineered stone products. This decision follows a rise in workers developing the incurable and deadly lung disease, silicosis.

During the Industrial Relations Ministers Meeting on December 13, 2023, leaders from the Commonwealth, states, and territories came to a unanimous agreement to implement a national ban on the use of engineered stone. This decision was made after reviewing the findings and recommendations provided by Safe Work Australia’s Decision Regulation Impact Statement. Under the model WHS laws, the use of engineered stone will be prohibited.

Ministers have unanimously agreed to ban the manufacture, supply, and use of all engineered stone. Most jurisdictions will implement the ban from July 1st, 2024. In making their decision, Ministers noted the key findings in the Decision Regulation Impact Statement:

  • Rates of silicosis and silica-related diseases in Australian workers have risen substantially in recent years, with a disproportionate number of diagnoses in engineered stone workers.
  • When engineered stone is processed, the dust generated has different physical and chemical properties that likely contribute to more rapid and severe disease.
  • 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.
  • Silicosis is preventable, but WHS laws are not protecting workers due to a persistent lack of compliance with obligations and responsibilities under these laws across industry at all levels.

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. It is estimated that in the last five years up to 600,000 Australian workers have been and are potentially exposed to silica dust each year across a wide range of industries. Further estimates of between 83,090 and 103,860 silicosis cases and 10,390 lung cancers are expected to result from exposure, according to the National Silicosis Prevention Strategy 2023-2028 and accompanying National Action Plan by the Lung Foundation Australia.

Along with the decision to ban its use and manufacturing, the Australian government has announced a complementary customs prohibition on engineered stone for border enforcement and deterrence, as well as acknowledged the need for a transitional period to faze the product out.

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.