Aussie construction and property giants join fight against engineered stone

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
5 Min Read

Australia’s biggest property development and construction companies have banned engineered stone from all new development projects.

The landmark agreement made with the construction union comes after months of campaigning for a naitonal ban on the importation and production of the deadly material.

Typically installed throughout Aussie kitchens and bathrooms, the benchtop product has come under heavy scrutiny after being linked to a debilitating lung condition – silicosis.

Nicknamed “the new asbestosis”, silicosis is caused by inhaling the ultra-fine silica dust produced while cutting manufactured stone, with one study predicting 100,000 workers are set to develop the condition in their lifetime.

That makes silicosis the fastest-growing occupation disease in the country.

Construction and property firms join fight

Now, Australia’s major property developers and construction firms have thrown their weight behind the CFMEU’s Stop This Killer Stone campaign, including Lendlease Australia, John Holland, Mirvac and CBUS Property.

They join forces with retailers who’ve stopped stocking the product, such as Bunnings, IKEA, Mitre10, and most state governments who now back a national ban on engineered stone, which Safe Work Australia recently recommended at a state and federal meeting.

CFMEU National Secretary Zach Smith hoped the near-universal support of Australia’s commercial sector would help seal the fate of the tradie killing stone.

“Some of the biggest property players in Australia are taking a strong stand that will save workers’ lives,” he said.

“Together with the CFMEU, these companies are helping us hammer another nail in engineered stone’s coffin.”

Mr Smith said the fact Australia’s biggest construction companies were now in support of the silica bench top ban proved there are safe and reliable alternatives available.

“The fact that the likes of Lendlease, John Holland and Mirvac are no longer procuring this product for new projects backs up exactly what we’ve been saying all along,” he said.

“Engineered stone is a completely unnecessary product that is in no way integral to building.”

“The engineered stone companies that profit from the lives of Australians are now completely isolated.”

Stone manufacturers slam blanket ban

One of those companies, Caesarstone, recently launched an advertising campaign fighting back against the proposed blanket ban.

The national supplier and global manufacturer of engineered stone stated it would be “unnecessary and excessive” to ban the product entirely.

In a letter to Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke, Caesarstone Australia managing director David Cullen said:

“We believe such action may actually increase risks for workers, who will continue to handle types of stone containing levels of harmful silica higher – sometimes significantly – than the engineered stone products now available.”

That letter led to a war of words from the CFMEU, with National Secretary Zack Smith labelling Caesarstone’s pushback campaign as “evil”.

“These scumbags are happy to sentence more Australians to death just to squeeze some extra profits from an easily replaceable construction material,” he said.

“Hundreds of Australians have been served death sentence by cutting Caeserstone. Any person with a human heart who hears the stories of silicosis victims wants to get rid of Caeserstone right away.”

Unions to take matters into own hands

The CFMEU has promised no more engineered stone will be installed on Australian worksites by July 2024, regardless of whether a federal ban is introduced.

Their pledge has been backed by the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), which has banned the import of the product onto Australian shores by the same date.

MUA Assistant National Secretary Mich-Elle Myers said the sale of the engineered stone must be stopped.

“It is completely imported and deadly,” she said.

“We won’t import it into our ports, it won’t come onto our docks, and we won’t work with it in the construction division.”

The united front comes ahead of a national meeting in Canberra to discuss a nationwide ban on engineered stone later this month.

“Federal, state and territory ministers must agree on a total ban of the import, manufacture and use of engineered stone when they meet later this month,” Mr Smith said.

To stay up to date on the CFMEU’s Stop This Killer Stone Campaign, visit their website.

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.

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