Unions say ban engineered stone or we will

by Sophie Berrill
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Engineered stone

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has said it will take “all necessary steps” to ban engineered stone if the government fails to do so, while Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) members have taken to the streets to boycott the “killer stone”.

CFMEU members reportedly marched through Sydney this morning to call for bans on engineered stone, which has been linked to deadly respiratory diseases like silicosis.

This action follows a statement released by ACTU earlier in the week saying that if government bans are not in place by the middle of 2024 it will direct members to refuse engineered stone on building sites across Australia. 

What is engineered stone?

Engineered stone is a composite material commonly used in kitchen and bathroom benches. Workers who breathe in dust from engineered stone – usually from cutting, drilling, grinding, trimming, sanding or polishing it – have a very high risk of developing serious and potentially fatal lung diseases like silicosis, emphysema and lung cancer, according to Safe Work Australia.

“The foreign multinational corporations that manufacture and import this product have known about the risk it poses for decades and have failed to take the necessary steps or warn and protect workers,” ACTU assistant secretary Liam O’Brien said. 

“Indeed, even today we continue to see dust-filled factories exposing workers to the risk of silicosis.”

Unions issue ultimatums

The CFMEU issued a similar ultimatum last year with the launch of its ‘Stop This Killer Stone’ campaign. In November 2022, the CFMEU said it would ban the use of engineered stone products if governments failed to do so by July 2024.

“The CFMEU’s position is unmoved,” CFMEU national secretary Zach Smith says in the most recent update

“If governments don’t carry through on banning engineered stone, the union will. July 2024 remains our deadline.”

Workplace Health and Safety Ministers tasked Safe Work Australia to undertake further analysis and consultation on a prohibition on the use of engineered stone in February. That report was provided to Commonwealth, state and territory governments in August and is expected to be released this Friday.

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