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Ban engineered stone – information guide

Engineered stone FAQs

The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions Te Kauae Kaimahi remains committed to seeing engineered stone banned in Aotearoa and occupational health protections for workers improved.

On 1 July 2024 Australia lead the world by becoming the first country to ban engineered stone a decision built on broad consultation, analysis, and scientific research.

On 4 July, 19 organisations wrote to the Minister wanting a ban on engineered stone.

Australia has taken action to save lives, New Zealand needs to do the same.


What is engineered stone and why do we want to ban it?

Engineered stone is an artificial product created by combining stone materials with chemicals. It contains a high concentration of crystalline silica which is released as a dust when the product is cut, drilled, and grinded. Exposure to this dust can lead to the disease silicosis – a scarring of the lungs. Silicosis is a debilitating disease that is not curable. It can be fatal.

Studies from Australia have indicated that engineered stone workers are disproportionately represented in overall silicosis cases, and, that these workers appear to develop the disease faster with more rapid progression of the disease (known as accelerated silicosis).

Dust from engineered stone has particular properties that indicate it is more harmful than other products that contain silica and warrants being banned.

A ban on engineered stone eliminates risk by removing exposure.  

What do we want to see?

Australia has led the world by being the first country in the world to protect workers by banning engineered stone. They are also increasing the regulatory protections for workers working with other crystalline silica substances.

We want to replicate those regulatory settings being adopted in Australia over here in Aotearoa to give workers, businesses, and the wider public the certainty that worker health will be prioritised.

This means:

  • Banning work that involves the manufacture, supply, processing, or installation of engineered stone benchtops, panels and slabs.
  • And increasing the regulatory protections for work with other silica-based materials to protect workers from exposure to silica dust

…and a ban isn’t the end of the story

Work-related health kills an estimated 750-900 workers each year and is the cause of 5000-6000 hospitalisations annually. While a ban on engineered stone will directly protect workers by eliminating the risks from working with engineered stone, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

We still need to make improvements more broadly to protect workers from the impacts of work on health. These can be biological, physical, ergonomic, chemical and psychosocial. The impacts of these harms can often be accumulative and chronic across a worker’s career.

Work-related ill-health is however largely preventable by appropriately managing the risks and protecting workers’ health with strong regulatory settings.

What’s specifically happening in Australia?

From 1 July 2024, persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) must not carry out, or direct or allow a worker to carry out, work that involves the manufacture, supply, processing, or installation of engineered stone benchtops, panels and slabs.

There are some exemptions for working with legacy engineered stone including its removal, to make minor modifications/ repairs, and its disposal. This work needs to be notified to the relevant regulator and be undertaken in a controlled manner.

This ban is being supported by also making regulatory improvements for non-engineered stone silica substances.

This includes:

  • a prohibition on uncontrolled processing of crystalline silica substances and
  • requirements for PCBUs carrying out high risk crystalline silica processes to develop:
    • a Silica Risk Control Plan;
    • provide additional training for workers;
    • undertake air and health monitoring for workers; and
    • report exceedances of the workplace exposure standard for respirable crystalline silica to the relevant WHS regulator


Why is engineered stone so harmful?

Engineered stone has unique hazards.

A University of Adelaide literature review commissioned by Safe Work Australia1 outlines these hazards:

Risks from processing
  • “Processing engineered stone products with a high crystalline silica content generates much higher Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) compared to natural stone”
  • “Processing engineered stone materials can produce higher levels of ultrafine particles. Particles in this size range are more easily able to penetrate deep into the lungs leading to inflammatory responses and are associated with effects beyond the respiratory system such as autoimmune disease”
Environmental factors
  • “Personal air monitoring has shown common tasks involved in engineered stone fabrication can expose workers to RCS at levels well above the [Australian Workplace exposure standard] (0.05 mg/m3 8-hour TWA) if effective controls are not in place”
  • “High levels of airborne RCS have been detected in all areas of an engineered stone fabrication workshop, including areas that were not used for processing of engineered stone”
Reactivity from exposure:
  • “There is also evidence the dust generated from engineered stone differs in terms of the forms of crystalline silica present, surface characteristics, resin and elemental composition and particle size distribution, all of which may influence its reactivity”
  • “The different polymorphs identified in engineered stone dust, primarily quartz and cristobalite, may influence their reactivity, compared to natural stone which contains mostly quartz”
  • “the presence of resin in engineered stone may influence the risk associated with RCS exposure by coating the reactive surface groups of RCS particles, affecting how the body responds to the inhaled RCS”
  • “The presence of other, potentially reactive elements in engineered stone dust emissions as well as lung biopsies of silicotic patients, suggests the potential contribution of metal ions in engineered stone to disease risk”
  • “Lower crystalline engineered stone products are being manufactured with products such as amorphous silica (including glass and recycled glass) and feldspar. While little is known about the risk profile of emissions (including dust) produced when these products are processed, there is some evidence of increased toxicity of freshly ground amorphous silica from these materials”


Don’t we need engineered stone?

In short, no. Engineered stone is a fashion product and there are alternatives on the market.

Workers’ lives shouldn’t be traded off for a trendy kitchen.

Why not just ban high percentage silica content products?

There is no evidence that lower silica engineered stone poses less risks to workers. And there is no safe exposure to silica dust.

This option was considered by Australian when examining their ban and was ruled out because:

  • The risks posed by working with engineered stone are serious and the possible consequences of being exposed to respirable crystalline silica generated by engineered stone are severe and sometimes fatal.
  • There is evidence of continued non-compliance with WHS laws by PCBUs and workers in the engineered stone industry, despite significant education and awareness-raising activities as well as compliance and enforcement action by WHS regulators.
  • A lower silica content engineered stone is not expected to result in improvements in compliance.

[1] Safe Work Australia “Decision Regulation Impact Statement: Prohibition on the use of engineered stone” (August 2023) at [2.2.1]