The national construction union, CFMEU, said it would “continue its fight” for a ban on engineered stone products after the Federal Government announced it would consider banning it.
The union welcomed the announcement from Federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke, who said he would commission Safe Work Australia to explore available steps towards banning the product, which has been linked to an increase in silicosis diagnoses.
The announcement followed a unanimous agreement between the unions and the Ministers of Health and Safety at Work to review the details of a ban.
Mr Burke said Safe Work Australia would “cover” the details of a potential ban but acknowledged implementation of the changes was “not moving fast” despite fast-tracking the decision from July next year .
“Now that Ministers have agreed to this accelerated timeframe, Safe Work will immediately begin work on what a ban could look like and how to implement it,” Mr Burke said.
“We cannot postpone this. The Government is not prepared to wait the way people did with asbestos.”
Incoming CFMEU National Secretary Zach Smith described the decision as a “great step” towards banning “killer stone,” but said the union “will not rest until it is illegal to import and manufacture engineered stone in Australia “.
“The position of the CFMEU has not wavered. If governments don’t go ahead with banning engineered stone, the union will. July 2024 remains our deadline,” Mr Smith said.
Mr Smith said the Federal Government should also look to include a licensing scheme for existing engineered stone products.
“Along with a ban, we think it’s a sensible step for ministers to commit to a licensing scheme for products that are already out there, similar to the way we deal with asbestos,” he said.
“But you can’t have one without the other. That’s why it’s absolutely critical that this commitment becomes an enforceable ban as soon as possible.”
Mr Burke said Safe Work Australia would review how a national licensing scheme would be implemented and where “the line would be drawn” for existing products.
“People will find that not all engineered stone is 97, 98 percent silica; there are some forms that are at a lower percentage level and therefore present a lower risk,” Mr Burke said.
Stonemason Tristan Wilson, who was diagnosed with silicosis five years into his career, said the ban would be a “huge win” for the industry but warned more work was needed to address working conditions and availability of compensation.
He said his workplace was very dusty with limited ventilation and he was only given a paper mask before WorkSafe visits.
“It may be too late for me, but banning engineered stone is a huge win for stonemasons still working in the industry as well as the next generation who hopefully won’t get sick from things like me,” said Mr. Wilson.
“Engineered stone is a cheaper alternative to marble and granite kitchen benchtops but doing something on the cheap always poses a problem.”
“The ban is a good first step, but politicians also need to make it easier for stonemasons with silicosis and other lung diseases to access compensation because families are struggling to survive.”
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