Australia’s ministers responsible for workplace health and safety and workplace relations met in December 2023 to determine a national response for the use of engineered stone. They unanimously agreed to implement a national ban on working with engineered stone products, including manufacturing, supplying, processing and installing.
The national ban will take effect in most Australian states and territories on 1 July 2024. Following the strong recommendations to ban engineered stone by Safe Work Australia, the Governments have finally recognised that there’s no safe threshold for crystalline silica content in engineered stone benchtops and products.
Workplace health and safety laws to date, have failed to protect workers in the stonemason industry from silica exposure and the lung diseases it causes. These include silicosis, lung cancer and autoimmune diseases such as scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Occupational lung diseases from engineered stone dust exposure are the worst occupational dust diseases crisis since the peak of the asbestos disaster.
What is engineered stone and why is it dangerous?
Engineered stone, which is primarily popular in Australia in the form of benchtops, is made of around 95% crystalline silica. When engineered stone is cut, ground, drilled or polished, it releases silica dust.
Who are the main manufacturers of engineered stone?
Engineered stone benchtops have become extremely popular in Australia. They were designed to emulate natural stone such as marble and granite, but at a more affordable price. The most widely available silica stone benchtop brands include:
Engineered stone is commonly made from crushed quartz and other materials, bound with a polymer resin.
Why are engineered stone benchtops dangerous?
The finished product is not dangerous, however, workers, who handle and cut this engineered stone are at risk of exposure to silica dust.
Silica dust is harmful when inhaled. Its particles are 100 times smaller than a grain of sand, making it much easier to end up in your lungs. Inhaling silica dust into your lungs can cause silicosis, lung cancer and autoimmune conditions.
So, what is silicosis?
Silicosis is a lung disease where the lungs inflame and scar in response to silica dust particles embedding into lung tissue. Over time the lungs stiffen, making it difficult to breathe. Symptoms can include:
Sharp chest pain
Swelling in the lungs and chest
What are silica induced autoimmune diseases?
An autoimmune disorder occurs when a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks their own body. Silica exposure can result in disabling conditions such as scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Symptoms can may include:
Thickening of the skin
Destruction of internal organs including lungs, heart and kidneys
Swollen joints, pain and stiffness
Fever and weight loss
How the national ban on engineered stone in Australia has evolved
Below we uncover the impact of engineered stone in Australia and Shine’s role in advocating for clients and lobbying governments to ban engineered stone over the last decade:
Engineered stone products are introduced into Australia. Compared to marble and granite, engineered stone is cheaper, stain resistant and produced in a range of colours. It quickly becomes a popular choice for contemporary new builds and renovations for kitchen, bathroom and laundry benchtops.
Engineered stone accounts for 32% of all new benchtops in Australia.
According to a small study, dry cutting of engineered stones generates silica dusts at levels 150 times above the recommended exposure limit for a 30-minute period. This alerted Roger Singh, who was one the first to notice the connection between silicosis and autoimmune diseases being diagnosed in young stonemason working with engineered stone.
Workers impacted by engineered stone exposure engaged Roger to represent them.
Engineered stone accounts for 45% of all new benchtops in Australia.
Shine Lawyers commenced Australia's first engineered stone injury court action, representing a client diagnosed with silicosis and silica-related auto-immune disease.
Roger Singh wrote to every state and territory workplace relations minister to alert them of the impending surge in workers with silica induced injuries. Roger launched his journey to advocate for change due to severe lung damage suffered by stonemasons, in the form of silicosis and progressive massive fibrosis and / or crippling autoimmune disease.
Shine Lawyers presented the detailed submission A Need for Laws Protecting Stone Masons Against Engineered Stone – Silica Dust to all state, territory and federal governments.
The submission urged robust regulation of the stonemason industry with a licensing scheme, in the absence of government support for a ban. The licensing scheme aimed to restrict the supply and handling of high silica content engineered stone to businesses that adhered to stringent workplace safety practices.
The Queensland government banned dry cutting of engineered stone, to try and curb the silicosis crisis, influencing other states to follow their lead.
Employers were required to protect their workers from silica dust exposure through measures such as water suppression systems, correct ventilation and exhaust systems and providing protective clothing.
Roger Singh travelled around Australia, meeting with state and territory ministers to again flag an impending dust diseases crisis and an immediate need for robust regulation.
Roger Singh’s client Anthony White was the first stonemason to die from silicosis in Australia at the young age of 36.
November 2019 – April 2021
Roger Singh’s oral and written submissions to National Dust Diseases Task Force (NDDT) flagged the desirability of a ban on engineered stone while reinforcing the need for a national licensing scheme in the absence or pending a product ban.
Queensland government announces that from 1 September, the state’s 15,000 mine and quarry workers will have free lung health checks for life.
The NDDT final report recommends a licensing scheme for engineered stone.
WorkSafe Victoria announced Australia’s first licensing scheme to protect engineered stone workers.
All of government’s response to the Final Report of the NDDT confirmed continuing work with state and territory governments and stakeholders to address the increase in silicosis cases among engineered stone workers.
The response confirmed support for the highest level of protection for workers but fell short of support for a ban of engineered stone.
Shine Lawyers presented a submission to Safe Work Australia’s Compensation Regulation Impact Statement, further advocating for a total ban on engineered stone by 2024.
Roger and his client Frank Scott met with the Hon Tony Burke MP, federal Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. They shared Frank’s story and lobbied to eliminate silica exposure associated with engineered stone.
As a teenager Frank worked as an apprentice stonemason between 1986 and 1989, on the construction of New Parliament House (NPH) in Canberra, installing granite and sandstone products.
In later years Frank worked with engineered stone
Frank’s rare autoimmune disease (scleroderma, overlapped with connective tissue disorder and cystic lung disease) required double lung transplant surgery
Frank's lung disease was associated with his occupational exposure to silica dust
Safe Work Australia publishes Decision Regulation Impact Statement: Prohibition on the use of engineered stone.
The Decision RIS recommends a ban on the use of all engineered stone, regardless of crystalline silica content, to protect worker health and safety.
13 December 2023
A huge milestone for stonemasons around the country — a national ban on the manufacture, supply, processing and installation of engineered stone is announced, to take effect in most Australian jurisdictions on 1 July 2024
Silica dust exposure – what to do next
If you or a loved one has been exposed to silica dust it’s important to take three steps:
1. Document your silica dust exposure
Common silica dust occupations include stonemasonry, construction, quarrying, tunnelling, and mining. It’s important to document the circumstances of your workplace exposure and if possible, retain any documents that prove your employment at the time you were exposed (such as an employment contract or payslips).
2. See your doctor
See your doctor, particularly if you start experiencing symptoms of silicosis or silica induced autoimmune disease.
3. Contact Shine Lawyers
Our Toxic Exposure, Silica and Dust Diseases team have been advocating for a ban on engineered stone for years and have successfully handled many compensation claims for families throughout Australia.
We can assist with managing your claim from start to finish for silica induced injuries such as silicosis and silica induced autoimmune diseases.
Shine Lawyers – we're here to help
If you or your loved one has worked with engineered stoneor been exposed to silica dust in another industry and has been diagnosed with a silica related disease, it's important to get the right legal advice as soon as possible.
Our compassionate and expert team can meet with you at a location you’re comfortable with for an obligation-free consultation.
We are ready to take action to get you the support and compensation you’re entitled to and right wrong. Contact us today.