Engineered stone prohibition from 1 July 2024

15 May 2024

New engineered stone benchtops, panels and slabs will be prohibited in Australia from 1 July 2024. Commonwealth, State and Territory Work Health and Safety (WHS) Ministers have agreed to a number of key implementation matters, with some adopting six-month transitional periods.

Australia is banning the use, supply and manufacture of engineered stone under work health and safety laws. The ban will not apply to porcelain and sintered stone products (including benchtops, slabs and panels) with trace levels of crystalline silica (less than 1% by weight). The ban also does not include finished engineered stone products that do not need to be processed or modified, such as jewellery, garden ornaments, sculptures, and kitchen sinks.

What are the rules?

The engineered stone ban will come into effect from 1 July 2024. State and Territory jurisdictions will need to implement amendments to their own WHS laws to give effect to the ban. Some jurisdictions have favoured transitional periods, while others have not.

Information on the ACT, NSW, NT and Tasmania was not available at the time of writing. However, Safe Work Australia is continually updating information by jurisdiction. By mid-May, the following jurisdictions had made announcements about potential transitional periods for the ban.

  • Victoria – no transitional period
  • Queensland – no transitional period
  • South Australia – six-month transitional arrangements from 1 July 2024 for those who entered into contracts on or before 31 December 2023. These contracts will be exempt from the ban, provided installation is completed by 31 December 2024.
  • Western Australia – six-month transitional arrangements from 1 July 2024 for those who entered into contracts on or before 31 December 2023. These contracts will be exempt from the ban, provided installation is completed by 31 December 2024.

The amendments to the model WHS regulations will include two new national frameworks relating to the implementation of the engineered stone prohibition:

  • A notification framework for working with legacy engineered stone products to ensure that the removal, disposal, repair or minor modifications to legacy products is managed safely; and
  • A more stringent exemption framework to provide a process to exempt engineered stone products from the prohibition in the exceptional circumstances where there is compelling evidence that a product can be worked with safely.

How will exemptions be managed?

Exemptions will be made for the removal, repair, minor modification and disposal of legacy products (engineered stone installed prior to the prohibition). Other exemptions identified by Safe Work Australia include genuine research and analysis, and sampling and identification of engineered stone.

However, as mentioned above, a notification framework will be incorporated into the WHS laws. Under this framework, businesses planning to undertake permitted work with legacy engineered stone will be required to notify WHS regulators – and failure to notify will constitute an offence.

How do we define engineered stone?

Safe Work Australia (SWA) provide a clear definition of engineered stone. SWA states that on 22 March 2024, WHS ministers agreed that engineered stone be defined in the model WHS Regulations as an artificial product that:

  • contains at least 1% crystalline silica as a weight/weight concentration, and
  • is created by combining natural stone materials with other chemical constituents such as water, resins or pigments
  • undergoes a process to become hardened.

The ban does not apply to other silica-related materials such as:

  • concrete and cement products
  • bricks, pavers and other similar blocks
  • porcelain products*
  • ceramic wall and floor tiles
  • roof tiles
  • grout, mortar and render
  • plasterboard
  • engineered stone products with trace levels of crystalline silica (less than 1% by weight)
  • sintered stone*.

*Note for the avoidance of doubt, porcelain products and sintered stone are excluded from the prohibition if the product does not contain resin.

Why is the prohibition important?

Engineered stone products contain high levels of crystalline silica. When engineered stone is cut, sanded or polished, dangerous levels of crystalline silica dust is released into the air. Silica dust exposure can lead to severe illnesses for workers, such as silicosis, lung cancer, kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The vast majority of silicosis sufferers diagnosed in recent years have been engineered stone workers, with fast disease progression and higher mortality associated.

Resource roundup

Safe Work Australia – Engineered stone ban

Safe Work Australia has a Frequently Asked Questions page, with extensive advice on the engineered stone ban for businesses, consumers and the general public.

SafeWork NSW – Silica in engineered stone workplaces

Includes information on risks, how to manage the risks, prevention, lung testing requirements and health monitoring.

Work Health and Safety Meeting of Ministers Communique – 22 March 2024

On 22 March 2024, Commonwealth, state and territory WHS Ministers agreed to a number of key implementation matters for the prohibition on the use of engineered stone. Topics of discussion include Benchtop, panels and slabs made from alternative materials, transitional arrangements for contracts, legacy engineered stone and the disposal of engineered stone.

Work Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation Ministers’ Meeting – 10 May 2024

The most recent meeting of the WHS Ministers includes decisions around the notification framework for legacy engineered stone products and the more stringent exemption framework. Decisions were also made around regulation of other crystalline silica substances.

“Rock Dust Menace”, The Architects’ Newspaper, 15 May 2024 

Once considered a safe material, silica is the subject of new regulations and changing sentiments about its effects on our health. Diana Budds investigates the issues in the American context, but also interviews politicians, academics and architects about the upcoming ban in Australia.