Engineered stone use to be banned from 1 July 2024

By Nicholas Beech and Rosemary Roach

The use, supply and manufacture of all engineered stone will be prohibited, in most jurisdictions from 1 July 2024, following a meeting of Workplace Relations and Work Health and Safety Ministers on 13 December 2023. We examine what the prohibition and other related changes will look like. Any PCBUs who use, supply, or manufacture engineered stone should start taking steps now to assess the changes that will be needed to comply with the ban.

What is engineered stone?

The model Work Health and Safety Regulations define engineered stone as an artificial product that:

  • contains crystalline silica, and
  • is created by combining natural stone materials with other chemical constituents such as water, resins, or pigments; and
  • undergoes a process to become hardened.

Engineered stone does not include concrete and cement products; bricks, pavers and other similar blocks; ceramic and porcelain wall and floor tiles; roof tiles; grout, mortar and render; and plasterboard.

Present duties under WHS laws relating to crystalline silica and engineered stone

Under the model Work Health and Safety laws, a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must:

  • manage the risks to health and safety associated with handling or generating respirable crystalline silica (RCS), as a hazardous chemical, at a workplace in accordance with a risk management process that requires the PCBU to identify hazards that could give rise to risks to health and safety and apply the hierarchy of controls to minimise the risks to health and safety if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risks;
  • ensure that no person at the workplace is exposed to RCS that exceeds the exposure standard of 0.05 mg/m3 (eight-hour time weighted average);
  • undertake air monitoring in the breathing zone of workers if there is uncertainty that the workplace exposure standard is being exceeded or if it is necessary to determine whether there is a risk to a worker’s health;
  • provide and pay for health monitoring for workers if they carry out ongoing work generating RCS, or there is a significant risk to the worker’s health because of exposure;
  • prepare a Safe Work Method Statement for any high risk construction work that may generate RCS;
  • not process, or direct or allow a worker to process, engineered stone unless:
    • the processing of the stone is controlled through either a water delivery system that supplies a continuous feed of water over the stone being processed to suppress the generation of dust, an on-tool extraction system, or a local exhaust ventilation system; and
    • each worker who is processing engineered stone is provided with respiratory protective equipment, which is personal protective equipment that is designed to prevent a person wearing the equipment from inhaling airborne contaminants and complies with AS/NZS 1716:2012 (Respiratory protective devices).

What does the agreed prohibition involve?

According to the Communique issued on 13 December 2023:

  • the definition of engineered stone and the exclusions, as noted above, will apply; however, additional products will also be exempt following a process to be determined by Safe Work Australia in consultation with WHS regulators;
  • appropriate exceptions will apply for activities such as removal, repair, minor modification, and disposal of engineered stone products installed prior to the prohibition, with the process to be managed by each jurisdiction based on a national framework to be developed by Safe Work Australia;
  • appropriate exceptions will also apply for engineered stone products with trace levels of crystalline silica (under 1%); and
  • a transition period for contracts relating to engineered stone products, entered into on or before 13 December 2023 will apply, with arrangements to be agreed by March 2024 or sooner.

Other steps to be taken

To ensure strengthened protections for those exposed to crystalline silica in all industries, amendments to the model WHS Regulations on crystalline silica processes will also be made imposing:

  • additional training requirements;
  • a requirement to conduct air monitoring; and
  • reporting workplace exposure standard exceedances to the relevant regulator.

The Ministers have asked Safe Work Australia to provide its recommendations on these matters by February 2024.

A previously suggested ban on the import of engineered stone has also received further support, with the Federal Minister indicating an intention to put in place a complementary customs prohibition on engineered stone.

Next steps

With the national framework now agreed, there is much work to be done by Safe Work Australia in relation to the details. The transition period before the ban commences is relatively short, so PCBUs who use, supply or manufacture engineered stone should start taking steps now to assess the changes that will be needed to comply with the ban. We will provide updates when further details are released around the arrangements for additional exempted products, legacy products, contract management and the additional duties on crystalline silica processes.

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