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Engineered Stone Banned! Here's What You Need to Know

Engineered Stone Banned! Here's What You Need to Know

We told you it was coming: engineered stone banned! In a world where getting banned (or cancelled) can be a badge of honour (and evidence that you're a good guy), this decision seems fitting, but it comes with complications! As of July 1, Australia is the first country to ban engineered stone. Safe Work Australia recommended it, and legislators nationally have agreed. Let's briefly look at the 'why', but take a more focused look at the 'what'. 

This July 1 ban on engineered stone is not about the stone; instead, it is about eliminating worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS). A common hazard in construction and demolition, RCS can cause silicosis and lung cancer.  Even low-level exposure can cause serious health issues. This is why the ban was supported by all federal, state, and territory ministers. 

But what about you? Are you a supporter? Perhaps you're just pleased to finally have some certainty. Statistically speaking, we know six out of seven dwarfs are not Happy (think about it) - but we have no idea how employers, suppliers, or PCBUs feel overall. But how this impacts you does matter, so we want to help you get some clarity. 

In this article, we'll consider the following:

  1. Engineered stone and the RCS hazard.
  2. Is it banned in my state or territory?
  3. What does an engineered stone ban look like?
  4. Is there a transition phase?
  5. Can we get on with business now?
  6. What's still okay? What are the alternatives?
  7. When you've still got to work with it.
  8. Resources to make you happy (even if you are one of the other six).

Let's get into it.

Engineered Stone and the RCS Hazard 

In July 2019, we resourced you with "A Safe Work Procedure for Respirable Crystalline Silica". In that article, we discussed the importance of developing a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) to minimise RCS exposure and mitigate risks. We identified that a comprehensive SWMS should:

  • Identify tasks that generate RCS, 
  • Assess risks, 
  • Facilitate control measures,
  • Clarify training, monitoring, and review processes to ensure worker safety. 

As a result, control measures such as dust suppression, ventilation and personal protective equipment (PPE) were explained and encouraged. By implementing a SWMS of this quality, we showed how to minimise RCS exposure and protect your workers from serious health risks. 

Naturally enough, as devoted specialists in this area, we pointed you to some solutions. We explained our generic SWMS template and offered 21 additional process-specific templates. If you'd like to learn more about Silica Dust, Silicosis, and these types of safe work procedures, that 2019 article would be a good read. 

Then, in May 2023, in an article called "Silica Dust, Changing Regulations and a Continuing Threat," we switched focus. We explained that the 2020 silica dust regulations demanded stricter controls, more thorough monitoring, appropriate PPE, and silica dust-specific worker training. We also predicted the likely changes in 2024—and they came. Engineered stone is banned across the nation. 

Is Engineered Stone Banned in My State or Territory?

The short answer is 'Yes,' but the specific transition process varies between jurisdictions. 

  • NSW, NT, SA, TAS and WA have implemented a 6-month transition period.
  • VIC, QLD, WA and the ACT commence their ban on July 1.

But if you're a builder or supplier of engineered stone, you probably already know that. You've already felt the confusion and crippling indecision that often surrounds a bureaucracy-driven change. 

If you'd like to view information specific to your locale, I've linked them all below. 

QLD   NSW   VIC   TAS   SA   WA   NT   ACT

What Does an Engineered Stone Ban Look Like?

Safework Australia has made a variety of resources available. These include:

To summarise the headlines, once the engineered stone ban is fully implemented:

  • Manufacture and supply become illegal.
  • Processing or installation becomes illegal. 
  • Any use (benchtops, panels, slabs or anything else) becomes illegal.
  • Even if you entered into a contract before July 1, any of the above actions still becomes illegal, with some adjustments in jurisdictions with transitional arrangements (our next topic).
  • Repairs, minor modifications, removal and disposal of items already installed will be permitted if conducted according to your jurisdiction's existing safe work practice controls. 
  • Disposing of engineered stone in stock will also align with jurisdictional waste regulations.

Engineered Stone Banned - But With Transition

As stated, if you are from NSW, NT, SA, TAS or WA, the engineered stone ban is being implemented over a 6-month transition period. Using Tasmania as an exemplar, this means:

  • For contracts entered before December 31, 2023, the manufacture, supply or processing of engineered stone will be legal if the work is finished by December 31, 2024.
  • From January 1 2025, the ban will take full force.

Can We Get On With Business Now?

In March of this year, ABC News posted an interesting analysis of the approaching change. In this piece, business owner and employer Troy Prien (Laminates North) said he was happy with the ban from a safety perspective and also happy to see the conjecture brought to an end. Customers have been unable to lock in prices and choices, and there has been contractual uncertainty, wasted time, lost productivity, and impacted profit. In the same article, Denita Wawn, CEO of Master Builders Australia, echoed this painful reality.

So, for suppliers and builders, has the fog partially cleared?

Suppliers especially will ask, "What about all that unusable stock?" For an industry that used tens of thousands of in stock every month, there would be stockpiles around the nation, and businesses potentially crippled. 

  • Will businesses be compensated for purchases made before bans were announced? For the moment, at least, the answer seems to be 'No'.
  • There were industry players who (reportedly) did the proper and safe thing. The Queensland stone-cutting industry, for example, developed a new code of conduct, and its members invested substantially in the OH&S upgrades. Should they be penalised in this way? It seems unfair to me, but laws usually unfairly penalise the responsible.

There is still some residual fog — no doubt about it. But if you are a supplier or builder, you're probably relieved to have the fog clear enough to see ahead.

With Engineered Stone Banned, What's Okay? What are the Alternatives?

Engineered stone is more affordable than natural stone and has been commonly used for kitchen benches and bathroom vanities. What now?

Zero-silica-engineered stone does reportedly exist but has yet to be approved. That ABC article referenced earlier reports that it, too, may get banned due to resins.

Also confusing the issue is that at their December 2023 meeting, the ministers decided there was no safe threshold of crystalline silica, but then they decided on an acceptable threshold of less than 1%. 

So the fog descends again, but we can help clear that up. 

Firstly, finished engineered stone products are not banned as long as they do not need to be processed or modified. Examples include sculptures, jewellery, garden ornaments, and kitchen sinks.

Secondly, assuming these products and materials continue to remain less than 1% silica, these are also not banned:

  • Bricks, pavers and similar blocks,
  • Concrete and cement products,
  • Ceramic wall and floor tiles,
  • Grout, mortar and render,
  • Porcelain products,
  • Sintered stone,
  • Plasterboard, and
  • Roof tiles.

Thirdly, what are the alternatives to engineered stone? The good news is that there are options available. They include:

  • Travertine, 
  • Porcelain,
  • Terrazzo,
  • Granite, 
  • Onyx, and
  • Marble. 

Engineered Stone Banned - But You'll Still Have to Work With It

Previously, the emphasis was on proactive measures that minimised exposure. Now, elimination is the goal. Here are some headlines for the changes:

  • Where an existing benchtop or tile is made from engineered stone, it can remain in place. This is known as “legacy” engineered stone.
  • The removal of engineered stone will have strict rules that have yet to be finalised, but we know they will be based on model Work Health and Safety laws. These regulations are expected to be known and in use by September 2024. Until then, there's some fog.

Though this may change in September, when the more vigorous regulation of crystalline silica substances occurs, the current model WHS Regulations is our current guide. They state that IF while working with legacy engineered stone:

  1. You are cutting, grinding, trimming, sanding, abrasive polishing or drilling, AND
  2. You are using power tools or other mechanical plant, 

Then, you MUST use:

  • Wet cutting (water suppression system)
  • On-tool dust extraction, or 
  • Local exhaust ventilation.

AND your workers must have and use approved Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE).

Note that whenever you need to carry out minor work on legacy engineered stone benchtops, slabs or panels, you must notify the Regulator in your jurisdiction.

Resources to Make You Happy (even if you are one of the other six dwarfs).

When you have to work with engineered stone and Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS), despite the ban, consider these resources (which have been modified where necessary to reflect recent changes):

  • SWMS for RCS Dust Control ($79.75). This comprehensively addresses PPE, dust exposure, monitoring, materials, work methods, digging, cleanup and disposal.
  • SWMS for Joinery / Cabinet Making ($79.75). Where RCS is concerned, this SWMS focuses on safe work practices, monitoring and safe work practices for legacy engineered stone. 

Eventually, these processes and resources will likely change again, or even cease to exist. Until then, we will continue to navigate the challenges of looking after our customers while also exercising due diligence regarding regulations and compliance.

As we bid farewell to engineered stone, a new era of silica dust management begins. This is challenging, but you can navigate the transition smoothly and profitably by using quality resources. Our Safe Work Method Statements will help that happen, and as always, we are here for you to support you however we can and answer every question we are able. Call us on 1800 304 336. With more than 12,000 happy customers over 14 years, you've got reasons for confidence. 

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