National ban on engineered stone 'will save lives'

Engineered stone products will be banned across the country to protect workers from developing deadly health conditions.

The ban will come into effect from July 1, following an agreement by federal, state and territory workplace ministers at a meeting on Wednesday.

Engineered stone, which is commonly used in kitchen benchtops, has been dubbed a modern-day asbestos, with workers who used the product often developing the incurable and deadly lung disease silicosis.

As part of the national measure, the federal government has indicated it will introduce a ban on engineered stone being imported to Australia.

A statement from the meeting said a transition period would need to be put in place for contracts involving engineered stone that were entered into before the ban was announced.

The timeline for the transition period will be agreed on when the ministers meet again in March.

Exceptions will be put in place for the removal or repair of engineered stone that has already been installed.

CFMEU national secretary Zach Smith said the national ban was significant.

"It is an important win for the thousands of workers that have been forced to use this product, which has caused them to contract life-ending silicosis," he told reporters in Canberra.

"This decision that's been made by the various levels of government today will save lives. 

"We know that as many as one in four workers that are using engineered stone are contracting silicosis."

CFMEU national secretary Zach Smith
CFMEU national secretary Zach Smith says the national ban on engineered stone will save lives.

The CFMEU had previously said it would implement its own ban from July next year if the government did not act.

Mr Smith said measures were still needed to protect workers from previously installed engineered stone products.

"Our union is advocating for a system similar to the way we handle legacy issues of asbestos," he said.

"There's a lot of this product in Australian homes, in Australian apartments and commercial spaces, and it's important that people are properly trained and qualified to handle this product into the future."

Workplace ministers also noted businesses and consumers should be mindful of entering into new contracts involving engineered stone from January 1 to avoid work that might not be able to take place.

The national ban was endorsed following a Safe Work Australia report, commissioned by workplace ministers, calling for a countrywide prohibition.

While such a ban was deemed in the report to be the most expensive option, it said it would protect workers from developing health conditions.

Engineered stone ban
Union members rallied in Sydney calling for a national ban on engineered stone.

Safe Work Australia chief executive Marie Boland said the organisation would act immediately to introduce safety measures ahead of the ban's implementation.

"Workplace exposure to respirable crystalline silica has led to an unacceptable increase in the number of cases of silicosis and other silica-related diseases," she said.

"This prohibition will make Australian workplaces safer and healthier."

Hardware chains Bunnings and Mitre 10 said they would phase out selling the product.

Public Health Association of Australia chief executive Terry Slevin said more work was needed to support those affected by silicosis.

"This is an important day to be celebrated but it is also a call to action to work harder to reduce the known burden of those who, in their daily work, are exposed to silica," he said.

"Engineered stone is the most obvious and clear example of a dangerous product."

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