Engineered Stone Ban

The Impact of Engineered Stone Ban on the Australian Construction Industry

As of 2024, there are around 27,900 bricklayers and stonemasons in Australia. A number of the stonemasons are daily exposed to materials that contain crystalline silica, and a large proportion of these craftsmen use engineered stone in their daily work. These roles are part of the broader blue-collar jobs sector, essential for the construction industry.

The proposal to ban the use, supply, and manufacture of all engineered stone in Australia is welcomed, and was unanimously agreed upon by Commonwealth, state, and territory governments on 13 December 2023. 

Australia’s impending engineered stone ban, set to take effect on July 1, 2024, due to its association with silicosis from high crystalline silica content, has prompted the implementation of stricter safety regulations in the stonemasonry industry. This landmark decision positions Australia as a global leader and the first country to implement strong safety measures against engineered stone. It signifies a substantial shift towards prioritising worker health, advocating for the use of safer materials, and enhancing industry practices. This development will significantly impact trade jobs in Australia, especially within the construction sector.

Key Takeaways

  • Engineered stone ban represents a significant step towards enhancing safety and sustainability in the Australian stonemasonry industry, aimed at reducing the health risks of respirable crystalline silica (RCS).

  • Technological advancements, such as dust extraction systems, wet-cutting techniques, CNC machines, and industrial vacuum systems, are critical in complying with the policy and ensuring workplace safety.

  • The policy aims to protect workers’ health by reducing silicosis cases and other related diseases and contributes to environmental conservation by minimising airborne dust particles.

  • Home builders may face substantial delays, possibly extending for months, and a price surge of up to 30% as they pivot to safer alternatives to the popular engineered stone benchtops.

  • Dayjob Recruitment is committed to working with construction and manufacturing companies that strictly adhere to the Silica Code of Practice and prioritize safety.

Crystalline Silica

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What is Crystalline Silica?

Crystalline silica, the crystallized version of silicon dioxide, occurs naturally as a significant element in most rocks. This mineral is present in natural stones such as granite and sandstone and serves as one of the key ingredients in the manufacture of synthetic products, including engineered stone and tiles.

New Silica Code of Practice 

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New Silica Code of Practice 

The objective of the new code, effective on the 1st of May 2023 aims to minimise workplace exposure to dust. The code applies to all construction work and material manufacturing that contains 1% or more silica.

Australia has established strict regulations and codes of practice concerning silica dust to address the significant health risks associated with exposure to crystalline silica. For those looking to become a stonemason, understanding these regulations is crucial.

The establishment of the code also serves to raise awareness among employers and workers about the risks of silica dust, promoting safer work practices and encouraging the adoption of safer materials and technologies.

The Code can be found here. It applies to a wide range of commonly used materials, including bricks, blocks, tiles, mortar, and concrete.

The Code specifies how responsibility holders can comply with work health and safety legislation, such as eliminating or reducing exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) at work.

Australian Law

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Delays and Price Surges

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the impending engineered stone ban is poised to disrupt the home building industry significantly. Home builders may face substantial delays, possibly extending for months and a price surge of up to 30% as they pivot to safer alternatives to the popular engineered stone benchtops.

With the ban’s announcement, industry leaders are in a scramble to develop and scale the production of silica-free alternatives. However, the readiness and availability of these substitutes remain uncertain, leading to concerns over construction delays and the inevitable cost implications for both builders and customers seeking new, compliant materials for their homes.

Implementation of the Policy

This policy includes several key components to control exposure, including the following:

Control MeasuresDescription
Prohibition of dry cutting of engineered stoneDry cutting, which can generate high dust levels, is not allowed.
Mandatory use of water suppression systemsSuppress dust at the source by using water.
Mandatory use of on-tool dust extraction systemsDirectly remove dust from the tool and work surface to minimise airborne particles.
Requirement for local exhaust ventilation (LEV) where applicableCapture and remove dust at its source before it spreads into the workplace air.
Elimination of RCS exposure where practicableUsing materials or methods that do not generate silica dust.
SubstitutionReplacing high-silica materials with those containing less or no silica.
IsolationUsing physical barriers or distance to separate workers from dust sources.
Engineering controlsImplementing mechanical systems or changes to processes to reduce exposure.
Use of administrative controls and PPE if risks remainJob rotation to limit exposure time, training, and the use of appropriate respiratory protective equipment.

Legislative Framework Supporting the Policy by State

  • New South Australia: NSW has prioritised the reduction of workplace exposure to hazardous chemicals, including crystalline silica, as part of the NSW Work Health & Safety Roadmap 2022. The strategy includes researching and adopting international standards for health monitoring, early detection of silicosis, lobbying for lower Australian RCS exposure standards, introducing a NSW silicosis registry, and decreasing WHS non-compliant workplaces.

  • Victoria: Victoria introduced the Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Crystalline Silica) Regulations 2021, which include a licensing regime for engineered stone, a prohibition on dry cutting, and additional oversight of high-risk crystalline silica work​​.

  • Queensland: The state has developed a code of practice under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, focusing on managing the risk of exposure to RCS in construction and manufacturing. It includes provisions for health monitoring, worker consultation, and training​​.

  • Western Australia (WA): WA’s Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety issued guidance indicating that employers should prohibit uncontrolled dry-cutting, grinding, or polishing of materials containing crystalline silica. This is part of the state’s responsibility to control safety hazards, aiming to minimise workers’ exposure to silica dust​​.

  • South Australia: New regulations, effective from 1 September 2023, prohibit uncontrolled processing of engineered stone products, requiring control measures to minimise silica dust inhalation risks. Workers processing engineered stone must use respiratory protective equipment and a dust control system​​.

The table below covers common stone products and their average crystalline silica content.

Stone ProductTypical Crystalline Silica Content
Engineered Stone40% to 95%
Sandstone70% to 90%
Granite25% to 60%
Slate20% to 40%
Porcelain14% to 18%
MarbleLess than 5%

stonemason module


Technologies Adopted by Stonemasonry Companies

In the Australian stonemasonry industry, companies have implemented various technologies to align with the strict regulations regarding silica dust exposure. 

Dust Extraction Systems

Captures silica dust at its source with technologies like downdraught benches and HEPA filters, significantly enhancing workplace cleanliness and reducing health risks, all while simplifying maintenance with pulse-clean technology.

Wet Cutting Techniques

It uses water to suppress silica dust during stone processing, enhancing safety and cut precision while adhering to regulations against dry cutting, marking a move towards safer and more sustainable practices.

Industrial Vacuum Systems

Crucial for large-scale operations in the Australian stonemasonry industry, it efficiently removes both new and accumulated silica dust, significantly reducing airborne levels and worker exposure risk through mobile and stationary units designed for heavy-duty cleaning.

industrial vacuum systems

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Benefits of the Silica Dust Policy

The Silica Dust Policy significantly enhances health outcomes for employees by reducing the incidence of silicosis and other dust-related diseases, demonstrating a commitment to workplace safety and employee well-being. Environmental advantages include minimising airborne dust particles, contributing to cleaner air and reducing the ecological footprint of stonemasonry operations. Furthermore, the policy bolsters the stonemasonry industry’s reputation and sustainability, attracting ethically conscious consumers and investors while improving the quality of stonemasonry work by ensuring cleaner and more precise operations.

Health Benefits

Around 600,000 Australian workers face RCS exposure annually. The policy will safeguard their health, reducing respiratory problems and associated healthcare costs. Implementing the policy will significantly reduce the predicted 83,090-103,860 silicosis cases, saving lives and improving public health. 

Early detection is crucial for a better prognosis. By minimising exposure, the policy could reduce the number of undetected cases progressing to severe stages.

Positive Impact of Australia’s Engineered Stone Ban on the Stonemasonry Industry

A commitment to worker health and safety through new measurements will likely attract skilled workers who prioritise healthy work environments, leading to a more competitive workforce. Such a policy positively impacts the quality of stonemasonry work by ensuring cleaner working conditions, which can lead to more precise and higher-quality craftsmanship. 

Additionally, demonstrating environmental responsibility can appeal to environmentally conscious clients and architects, opening up market opportunities for stonemasonry businesses.  This shift may also create new stone industry jobs in Australia, as companies adapt to the new regulations and demand for compliant materials increases.

Impact of Engineered Stone in Australia's Stonemason Industry

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Dayjob Recruitment’s Commitment to Safe Workplaces

Dayjob Recruitment specialises in connecting skilled professionals with leading roles in the stonemasonry industry and ensuring a perfect match between top-tier talent and employers seeking to enhance their workforce with individuals committed to safety and excellence in craftsmanship.

Dayjob Recruitment prioritizes in our hiring process that our candidates possess the necessary skills, a strong commitment to safety and an understanding of its importance in safeguarding our company’s reputation and maintaining a durable workforce. For those looking to become a stonemason, our applicant screening includes targeted questions designed to evaluate their awareness and commitment to safety practices concerning safety measures such as: 

  1. Have you ever worked with dust extraction systems or wet-cutting techniques? Please share your experience.

  2. What measures do you take to minimise dust exposure when working on a site that lacks adequate dust control systems?

  3. How do you ensure your protective equipment (PPE) is always in good condition and adequately used?

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How does the policy impact small stonemasonry businesses compared to larger enterprises?

The Policy affects all stonemasonry businesses, regardless of size, by mandating compliance with strict dust control measures. However, smaller businesses might face more significant challenges due to potentially higher relative costs for implementing the required technologies, such as dust extraction systems and wet-cutting techniques. To mitigate these challenges, government assistance through grants, training, and subsidies for purchasing necessary equipment could support smaller enterprises in transitioning to safer practices.

Under the new regulations, are there any specific training programs recommended or required for workers and employers?

Workers and employers can enhance safety by engaging in certified training that emphasises dust control methods, effective PPE usage, and health surveillance. Though there are no specific training programs under this policy, the aforementioned details can directly support the principles underlying initiatives. Such programs could be developed in collaboration with industry associations, health and safety organisations, and technical institutes to ensure they meet the policy’s requirements and effectively educate about minimising silica dust exposure.

What are the long-term financial implications of the policy for the stonemasonry industry?

In the short term, the policy may increase operational costs for stonemasonry businesses due to the need for new equipment and training. However, long-term financial implications are positive. By reducing the incidence of silicosis and other dust-related diseases, the policy can decrease healthcare and compensation costs, enhance productivity by ensuring healthier workforces, and improve industry reputation, potentially leading to increased demand for services from health and environmentally conscious consumers.

How will compliance with the policy be monitored and enforced?

While specific enforcement mechanisms were not detailed, compliance with the Policy would involve regular inspections, mandatory reporting of silica dust levels, and health monitoring of workers by regulatory bodies such as workplace health and safety agencies. Penalties for non-compliance could include fines, cessation orders, or revocation of operating licenses. 

What is engineered stone used for?

Engineered stone is primarily used for bathroom and kitchen surfaces such as countertops, benchtops, splashbacks, and flooring, due to its durability and aesthetic appeal similar to natural stone​​. It is a composite material made by combining crushed stone with a resin binder, often designed to mimic the appearance of natural stone while offering advantages such as resistance to scratches, stains, and heat.

Is engineered stone better for the environment?

Regarding environmental considerations, engineered stone can be seen as beneficial since it uses quartz crystals, which are abundant, and can slow the depletion of natural stones like granite or marble. However, the production process involves synthetic resins, which raises concerns about its overall environmental impact​​.

Is engineered stone good quality?

In terms of quality, engineered stone is known for its durability, non-porous nature, and resistance to chips, scratches, and stains, making it a high-quality option for many applications​​.

Is engineered stone easy to maintain?

Its maintenance is relatively easy since its non-porous surface doesn’t absorb liquids, making it simple to clean and hygienic for food preparation areas​​.

Does engineered stone fade?

However, engineered stone is not completely fade-proof. While it is more color and pattern consistent compared to natural stone, continuous exposure to UV light can cause discoloration over time, indicating it may not be the best choice for outdoor applications​​.

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