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The Dark Side of Engineered Stone: Why It’s Being Banned and What You Can Use Instead



Engineered stone is a popular construction material known for its durability and low maintenance. However, in a world first, the Australian government has banned the use, supply, and manufacture of engineered stone under new work health and safety laws. Engineered stone products, including benchtops, slaps, and panels, will be banned across all Australian states and territories starting July 1, 2024.

The ban came after a years-long campaign supported by doctors, trade unions, and workers and is in response to compelling evidence from the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, indicating that working with engineered stone produces silica dust, thereby heightening the threat of silicosis among workers.

Fortunately, there are several safe and sustainable alternatives to engineered stone that can be used in construction projects. In this article, we will define engineered stone, discuss its benefits and health risks, and explore the alternatives that builders and homeowners can choose from.


What is Engineered Stone?


Engineered stone, also known as quartz or agglomerate stone, is a composite material made by mixing crushed stone with a resin binder. This manufactured product is made in a factory and can be customised to suit the specifications of any project.

Engineered stone was long seen as an attractive option for many builders and homeowners due to its durability and resistance to scratches, stains, and heat. But benefits aside, the threat of developing life-threatening silicosis from working with it became evident, specifically for the stonemasons, installers and other workers exposed to the dust.


Granite

Why was Engineered Stone Banned in Australia?


For decades, engineered stone benchtops were a preferred style in Australia. However, with rising cases of silicosis, proven to be caused by the inhalation of silica dust, it will be removed from the market in July 2024.

The dust, containing up to 95% crystalline silica dust, is created when the engineered stone is cut, drilled into, or ground. So, workers and home DIYers exposed to silica dust during installation and preparation are exposed to it, with profound effects.

Among the most troubling, silica dust has been shown to cause long-term damage, including lung cancer and silicosis, or lung scarring.


Timeline for the engineered stone ban and when it begins


In October 2023, Safe Work Australia published the Decision Regulation Impact Statement: Prohibition on the Use of Engineered Stone (Decision RIS). The statement recommended a ban on the use of all engineered stone, regardless of its crystalline silica content, with the protection of the health and safety of workers as its primary aim. 

Then, in December 2023, the Australian government made a world-first decision to ban engineered stone completely. Commonwealth, state, and territory workplace ministers unanimously agreed to implement a national ban on the product and agreed to a deadline of July 1, 2024 in all states and territories.

Some states such as NSW, SA, NT and WA have subsequently agreed to a 6-month transition period, whereas Vic, QLD, WA and the ACT will hold fast to the July 1 ban.

Now what remains to be seen is if other countries will follow.


What should homeowners and builders do now?


If your existing benchtops or tiles are made from engineered stone, you don’t need to worry if you plan on leaving them just as they are. However, those planning to remove engineered stone products from their home should know that new rules apply. Work with previously installed engineered stone after 1 July 2024 will be subject to future regulation under model work health and safety laws.  These regulations are expected to be implemented by 1 September 2024.



Alternatives to Engineered Stone


The good news is that a high-quality and visually stunning alternative is readily available: natural stone. Because natural stone features no silica, there's no need to worry about your health and safety. If you're looking for a new benchtop for your kitchen or laundry that you can feel good about, here are some excellent alternatives to engineered stone.


Natural Stone

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There are many excellent natural stone alternatives, including granite, travertine, onyx, and marble to use for kitchen benchtops. Sourced straight from the earth, it's long-lasting and naturally beautiful.



Terrazzo Slabs

terrazzo

This stunning composite features chips of marble, granite, quartz and glass in a cement base. Terrazzo benchtops are stylish, durable, and sustainable, with a distinctive look that will set your kitchen apart.



Porcelain Slabs

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etna grey porcelain

Benchtops made of porcelain are created with natural materials like clay and other minerals, then fired at a high temperature. Porcelain is low-porous for easy maintenance, durable, and looks just as stunning as natural stone.



Natural Stone: The safe alternative


Ready to give your home an upgrade using natural stone? Attila can help. As natural stone experts, we’ve held our lifelong pledge never to work with engineered stone products. Witnessing first-hand the hazards of the engineered stone manufacturing plants many years ago, the health risks were not something we felt comfortable with.

Our commitment to providing customers with high-quality and safe materials for their homes has always been paramount. And our conveniently located Campbellfield showroom has the most extensive collection of natural stone in Melbourne, so we invite you to come and look around.

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Attila: The natural stone specialists


Having witnessed firsthand the hazards within engineered stone manufacturing plants over two decades ago, the team at Attila made a firm decision never to sell engineered stone. We saw that the health risks posed to workers due to the silica dust exposure were alarming and unacceptable. Our commitment to safety and quality has been unwavering, leading us to prioritise natural stone products that uphold the well-being of our customers and employees.

Choosing a safe and quality alternative to engineered stone is simple with Attila. We have a stunning range of natural stone and porcelain just waiting to be discovered. You can check out eight natural stone options that are stunning alternatives to engineered stone kitchen benchtops. Reach out to our friendly team today, or book a consultation at our showroom and see the wonder of natural stone for yourself.