SA puts deadline on silicosis-causing engineered stone

Neve Brissenden and Jacob Shteyman |

Industrial Relations Minister Kyam Maher says SA is prepared to push ahead and ban engineered stone.
Industrial Relations Minister Kyam Maher says SA is prepared to push ahead and ban engineered stone.

South Australia has threatened to go it alone if engineered stone is not banned nationwide by the end of the year.

Safe Work Australia last month recommended a ban on the use of engineered stone products to prevent workers from developing deadly diseases and cancers.

State and federal governments have been unable to agree on a national approach, despite the safety watchdog’s recommendation.

South Australian Industrial Relations Minister Kyam Maher announced on Thursday that the state would be backing a ban on the product.

“The expert evidence is clear there is no safe threshold of respirable silica content in engineered stone,” he said.

“If there is no decisive national action on this issue by the end of the year, SA reserves the right to go it alone with a ban on a state level.”

Mr Maher said he was “hopeful” other states would follow suit in a national cabinet meeting in December.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll see that national ban,” he said.

“But if that doesn’t happen we’ll look to that ourselves in this state.”

NSW, Queensland and Tasmania have indicated they would support a nationwide ban, but progress was halted earlier in November when an unnamed state was accused of holding up a consensus decision.

NSW is also prepared to enact its own ban on engineered stone benchtops if a national agreement cannot be reached. 

Union engineered stone protest Sydney
Construction industry unions have called for a national ban on engineered stone. (Luke Costin/AAP PHOTOS)

Swedish homewares giant IKEA last week joined Bunnings in ditching the product, which has been proven to cause cancers.

Independent Hardware Group, which owns Mitre 10, Home Hardware, Total Tools and Hardings, will also remove engineered stone products from displays at its retail outlets.

Workers can be exposed to silica dust if their jobs involve breaking, crushing, grinding or milling materials high in silica, such as engineered stone benchtops, bricks, tiles, concrete and some plastic materials.

More than 600,000 workers are exposed to materials with high silica content in sectors such as mining, building and construction, tunnelling and manufacturing.

Unions have long campaigned to ban engineered stone and backed the Malinauskas government’s decision.

“Strong leadership saves lives – and that’s exactly what we’ve seen today in South Australia,” CFMEU national secretary Zach Smith said.

“All governments now have a moral obligation to follow this lead by locking in a national ban of engineered stone.

“Show you value Australian workers’ lives and make a full commitment to using whatever power you hold to ban the importation, use and manufacture of this killer stone.”

The SA Greens welcomed the announcement, guaranteeing the passage of the legislation through the state’s upper house.

“All legislators should be putting the lives of workers above the desire for shiny kitchen benchtops,” Greens MLC Tammy Franks said.

“We cannot continue to expose workers and residents to respirable silica dust when we know that there are no safe levels of exposure.”

Opposition treasury spokesman Matt Cowdrey said the government must be up-front about what products will be impacted and over what time period, to provide industry the opportunity to adapt if SA goes it alone.