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Medical bodies call for ban on engineered stone

Manufacturing News

Leading health bodies have backed calls for the banning of engineered stone commonly used in kitchens and bathrooms as well as industry which has been linked to the lung disease silicosis.

The call came from a powerful group – The Lung Foundation Australia, Thoracic Society of Australia, Australian and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine Inc, Australian Institute of Health & Safety, Public Health Association Australia, and the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists.

They said in a statement: “Over the past two decades there has been a high uptake in the use of high-silica content engineered stone products and this, combined with increased exposures in other industries, has resulted in a dramatic increase in the numbers of people diagnosed with lung and other pathologies (such as silicosis and lung cancer) due to exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS).

“As there is no cure for silicosis, a significant subset of people will be plagued by deteriorating health and an untimely death.”

Silica is naturally occurring and therefore present in many construction and building materials. The relevant industries include mining, tunnelling, construction, demolition, quarrying and manufacturing of silica powder.

“The increase in cases of silicosis clearly demonstrates the lack of awareness and failure to effectively control harmful exposures to RCS.

“As experts in health, disease prevention, and occupational health and safety, we believe that it is essential that governments and employers adopt policies and programs to systematically control exposure to RCS, including implementing a ban on the use of high-content silica engineered stone products.”

The group also urged Work Health and Safety Ministers to introduce the following:

  • Partner with, and support unions, employers, and professional organisations to develop and implement a national awareness and behaviour change campaign
  • Adopt a broad silica regulation, supported by industry codes of practices, to be included in the Model Laws by the end of 2023. The scope must cover the whole supply chain and all industries (including mining and quarrying) The scope must cover the whole supply chain and all industries (including mining and quarrying in states where workers are not currently protected by these interventions) and be based on the Victorian approach. It should also include the requirement to undertake training in high-risk silica processing.
  • Consult on the introduction of a ban on the use of engineered stone to be implemented by July 2024.
    Increase enforcement activity in engineered stone and other high-risk silica processing sectors.
  • Require Safe Work Australia to recognise and consider the inadequacies of current workers’ compensation systems for workers with chronic illnesses, such as silicosis, and propose further reforms for consideration. Governments must also investigate how to better support affected workers who are no longer in the workforce.

“Our aim is to eliminate, as far as possible, exposure to and diseases caused by exposure to RCS in Australia.”

Picture: Terry Slevin – Public Health Association of Australia

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