It’s Not Looking Good for Engineered Stone: Health Concerns Prompt Regulatory Action with Calls to Ban The Likes of Caesarstone

Photo by Aaron Huber on Unsplash

Engineered stone (Quartz Countertops) has been the subject of much debate over the last few years as a rising number of stone workers have developed silicosis as a result of handling the material without adequate protective equipment. Silicosis is a debilitating condition that causes respiratory degradation and irreparable damage to the lungs resulting in a painful and drawn-out death.

Manufacturers claim the product is totally safe to cut when the correct measures are implemented including; never cutting on site, wet cutting, using specialised respirators and cutting in negative pressure vacuum chambers. 

Workers unions on the other hand are not satisfied that there are enough measures in place to eliminate the risks to workers and the benefits of the product are far outweighed by the risks to workers and are calling for it to be banned totally in Australia. 

Bunnings & IKEA take action

Bunnings and more recently, IKEA, have announced they will remove Engineered Stone from their kitchen line-up from the 31st of December 2023. Bunnings uses Essential Stone, a Victorian importer of the product and IKEA uses a number of stone suppliers including Caesarstone for its product offering. This sends a pretty strong message that this countertop material is on its way out.

 

The Labor Government is expected to hand down a decision sometime in the month of December giving a definitive ruling on whether Engineered Stone will be banned in Australia or not. In recent conversations with manufacturers of the product, they have not sounded confident that the product will remain in the Australian market for much longer, a fairly strong sign that a ban is likely. It’s hoped there will be a grace period of 6-12 months of existing projects with the product to be completed before it becomes unavailable.

Should I be worried about my kitchen counter?

If you have an Engineered Stone/Quartz countertop at home, you need not fear any risk of silicosis. The product is perfectly safe once cut and in situ. We certainly wouldn’t recommend you drill holes into it and breath in the dust, as the issues lies withing the specific crystalline-silica structure that quartz is composed of.

What it does mean however, is that if you had a new countertop or splashback on order your time might be running out to have it installed. 

Where to from here?

If this ban comes into effect, this will no doubt cause ripples through the kitchen design and construction community. Engineered stone is widely used for its high durability, ease of maintenance and solid price point. Manufacturers are already pushing designers and specifiers towards using other product types in their ranges including porcelain slabs which are still gaining traction in the market and have a number of complexities specific to them meaning the design directions may be altered significantly. 

In the meantime, other product types to consider include; high-pressure laminates, timber, solid surface, natural stone, porcelain/tile and other crystalline-silica-free composite slabs (like recycled glass).