The Australian Institute of Health & Safety (AIHS) wishes to clarify our position on the use of engineered stone in Australia. After receiving feedback that there had been some uncertainty in our previous messaging on this issue, we would like to take this opportunity to address any confusion and provide a clear stance on the matter.
The AIHS does not support a blanket ban on the use of all engineered stone, but instead supports a consultation on the prohibition of engineered stone with greater than 10% crystalline silica content. There are many other materials that contain crystalline silica and present a risk to workers, and we believe it is not practical or economically feasible to prohibit their use entirely.
AIHS Chairperson Naomi Kemp clarified “Our position is to adopt a precautionary approach based on the available evidence and that exposures should be eliminated and where that is not possible reduced as low as is reasonably practicable.”
Ms Kemp went on to say “We recognise there are engineered stone products on the market with 10% or less crystalline silica, and there is evidence that the emissions from processing low silica products have correspondingly low respirable crystalline silica concentrations. A value of 10% crystalline silica is evidently manageable by industry and incorporates a commonly accepted toxicological margin of safety for non-cancer endpoints.”
The incidence of occupational disease from uncontrolled exposure to respiratory crystalline silica is unacceptable. This is despite over 300 years of knowledge of its harm and since 2011 duties under Australian WHS regulations to control dust exposure. Self-regulation has clearly been ineffective and we applaud Safe Work Australia members’ commitment for decisive action.
Unacceptable exposure levels to respirable crystalline silica is likely to also be occurring in many other industries including civil, commercial, and domestic construction, tunnelling, mining, quarrying, demolition, landscaping, rail transport (e.g., associated with sandboxes), manufacturing and others. We urge Safe Work Australia to also consult on respirable crystalline silica exposure in these sectors as soon as practicable, and within the three-year transition period for a new WES of 0.025 mg/m3.
The AIHS acknowledges that choosing to prohibit engineered stone with a specific percentage of crystalline silica will likely drive innovation and lead to new products reaching the Australian market. It is paramount that policymakers anticipate and consider potential “new” or exacerbated health hazards that may arise from these products that may lead to occupational disease.