“The asbestos of the 2020s”: Unions push for engineered stone ban

“The asbestos of the 2020s”: Unions push for engineered stone ban
Image: CFMEU Workers, including CFMEU National Secretary Zach Smith (Right), marching in Sydney, October 26. Image: CFMEU - Construction & General/ Facebook.


Australian union and health groups continue to push for the ban of silica-based engineered stone, debilitating thousands of workers inhaling silica dust.  

Released on Friday, a new report by Safe Work Australia recommends the nation-wide ban of the dangerous silica based product. The silica-based engineered stone is commonly used for home countertops.

Cutting and inhaling the particles of the silica-based products is linked to high rates of Silicosis, an incurable and deadly lung disease. Inhaling the Silica dust is also increases risks of lung cancer, kidney disease and pulmonary infections to workers.

Affecting thousands of workers 

Ahead of the report and government discussion on the ban on Friday, thousands of CFMEU union members marched through Sydney and towards NSW Parliament calling for the ban.

Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union National Secretary, Zach Smith, says the report is “the final nail in the coffin of the killer stone.”

The union has been calling for the ban as part of the CFMEU This Killer Stone campaign, with Smith saying the report leaves “no option for federal and state ministers” but to commit to the product ban.

“Anyone who opposes a complete ban on engineered stone will have blood on their hands,” says Smith.

“The science has always been clear: there is no safe exposure to engineered stone. Anyone suggesting otherwise wants to kill workers,” he continued.

“This is a huge day for Australia. Ministers must agree to banning the asbestos of the 2020s.”

Impacting lives

Silicosis is one of the oldest known lung diseases, however, it has continued to see a rise in the past 20 years.

A study by Curtin University estimates that more than 275,000 mining, construction workers and tradesmen have been exposed to the high levels of carcinogenic crystalline silica.

Central Coast resident Beau Hull was diagnosed with silicosis in March last year, causing him to leave the industry due to dangerous health impacts. 

“It was disgusting having the dust all over you, you could smell it on you, you were breathing it in, you could feel it on your teeth, and you were bringing it home,” Hull explains.


Once an active 36-year-old, Hull recognises the impacts of silicosis limiting his everyday activities, including hobbies, exercise and engaging with his kids. 

“I’m getting tired a lot quicker and the activities I used to love doing just seem like they’re decreasing.” 

“It’s killing me at the moment. It’s really getting to me, just thinking about it all the time, not knowing what’s going to happen,” Hull explains.

Logical response to ban

The Public Health Association of Australia has also made a joint statement against the product’s use. 

The PHAA, which is made up of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and multiple health and safety groups, says the ban is necessary due to the unmeasurable health risks associated with the engineered stone.  

CEO of PHAA, Professor Terry Slevin, says the ban is “well overdue.”

“In the interests of protecting industry profits, commercial entities opposing health regulation will condemn more workers who use their products to catastrophic respiratory health problems. Given what we know now, that is simply wrong,” continues Slevin.   

Slevin considers the ban as a logical response similar to progress made in “reducing smoking, protecting ourselves from the sun to reduce skin cancer, or in advancing road safety.”

“There is certainly more work to be done to reduce lung diseases, including cancer, resulting from exposure to silica,” says Slevin.

Earlier in the year, a joint investigation from The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and 60 Minutes reignited the calls towards banning the product. 

NSW Premier Chris Minns spoke at a press conference earlier in the week, foreshadowing the ban within the state if a national consensus was not met at Friday’s conference. 

A final decision of the product’s use is expected soon, with the ban to be put in effect 12 months after it is announced.


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