24 Jan 2024

Australia to ban engineered stone due to silicosis risk for workers: Should NZ follow suit?

From Nine To Noon, 9:05 am on 24 January 2024
Machine cutting through an engineered stone benchtop.

Machine cutting through an engineered stone benchtop. Photo: 123rf

Australia will become the first country to ban engineered stone benchtops this year, and there are calls for New Zealand to follow suit.

Potentially fatal lung disease silicosis is a risk for tradies who work with the artificial stone - commonly used for kitchen and bathroom benchtops - if they breathe in the silica dust as they cut it.

As of November last year, WorkSafe visited 60 of the 132 businesses who use the product here, issuing notices to 31 of them for not fully complying with protective measures.

Since 2019, Manatū Hauora, WorkSafe, and ACC have been working together to advise people who may have been exposed to respirable crystalline silica (RCS), to have a health check for possible accelerated silicosis.

Figures up to 1 August 2023 show that 190 people have lodged claims with ACC for assessment, based on exposure to RCS.

Across the Tasman, there will be a complete ban of the product from July. Melbourne-based respiratory physician Dr Ryan Hoy led a Monash University study which found one in four workers in Victoria, who worked with engineered stone, had developed silicosis.

Dr Ryan Hoy from the Australasian Thoracic Society, and University of Auckland Professor and director of the Auckland Bioengineering Institute Merryn Tawhai, speak with Kathryn Ryan.