by GRACE JOHNSON
In a huge win for the Construction, Forestry, Maritime Employees Union (CFMEU), federal, state and territory ministers have announced that engineered stone, a deadly product, will be banned from July 1 2024.
The announcement comes after months of CFMEU calling for a total ban of the product through their Stop This Killer Stone campaign.
CFMEU’s campaign also gained momentum with retail giants like Bunnings Warehouse and IKEA pledging to ban the product by the end of the year.
The silicone-based product has caused many workers to be diagnosed with silicosis, a lung disease estimated to have contributed to over 10,000 deaths globally.
CFMEU National Secretary Zach Smith said Australia would be a safer place when the ban is implemented.
“This is an incredibly special day for Australian workers, especially every CFMEU member who fought for this life-saving change,” he said.
“This announcement is a massive victory for people like Kyle Goodwin, the former stonemason who bravely fronted our union’s campaign after contracting incurable silicosis from simply from doing his job,” he continued.
“Kyle selflessly dedicated a huge chunk of his remaining days to stopping other workers from being given the same unthinkable diagnosis.”
CFMEU had previously said that it would implement its own ban on members working with engineered stone if the federal government did not ban production, importation and use of the material by July 2024.
Mr Smith said, “From the start of this campaign, our union has said we would implement our own ban on July 1. The decision made today means we won’t have to.”
A welcome decision
SafeWork NSW has welcomed the prohibition on the use, supply and manufacture of engineered stone in NSW.
Head of SafeWork NSW Trent Curtin said, “SafeWork NSW welcomes yesterday’s decision as a step towards safer work for those in the engineered stone industry, which will ensure the eradication of silica dust exposure from engineered stone in NSW.”
“Silicosis is preventable and this decision will remove dangerous exposure to silica dust from engineered stone, saving lives in the process,” he said.
“SafeWork NSW inspectors will continue to take a zero-tolerance approach to lives being placed at risk from the use, supply and manufacture of engineered stone and will take compliance and enforcement action at worksites found to be non-compliant where necessary.”
The decision, made on Wednesday December 13, followed a Safe Work Australia report, which found there was no safe level of silica in engineered stone.
In order to maintain workplace health and safety, SafeWork NSW will continue compliance inspections in the engineered stone industry, including site visits and issuing penalties to any non-compliant operators.
Arrangements will be made for working with legacy engineered stone products, such as removal, modification, repair work and disposal.
Deadly legacy will persist for years to come
Despite the ban being a positive and much-needed step for the safety of Australian workers, Shine Lawyers have cautioned that the product’s deadly legacy will continue to cause suffering for some time yet.
Dust Diseases National Practice Leader Roger Singh says cases of silicosis and autoimmune diseases are likely to surge into the future because of the delay in their onset and diagnosis.
“This ban is a welcome step, but sadly we know it’s too late for far too many young tradies who’ve been exposed to the silica dust in these products,” he said.
“It can take years for diseases like silicosis and scleroderma to become apparent, so the reality is young lives will continue to be destroyed well into the future.”
“There is a generation of pain and suffering which is yet to run its course,” Mr Singh cautioned.
“I would urge anybody who has been exposed to silica dust in their workplace to seek medical attention as soon as they have even the slightest concern for their health.”