Fate of “tradie killer” stone could be decided today

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
7 Min Read

The fate of engineered stone could be decided today as Australia’s federal, state and territory governments meet to discuss banning the deadly product.

The meeting culminates a week of intense pressure from the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), with thousands of members marching through Sydney yesterday to call for an immediate ban on the importation and manufacturing of engineered stone.

Meanwhile, Build-it joined CFMEU members who gathered outside Bunnings stores nationwide last weekend to call for the building materials retailer to stop selling engineered stone before a potential ban occurs.

Commonly used in Australian kitchens and bathrooms, the benchtop product has come under heavy scrutiny after being linked to a debilitating lung condition – silicosis.

Dubbed “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.

Protests call on stores to drop manufactured stone

CFMEU National Secretary Zach Smith told Build-it that the weekend’s protests were focused on educating Bunnings customers about the dangers of engineered stone and safer alternatives.

“Bunnings customers deserve to know it is profiting from killer stone bench tops,” Mr Smith told Build-it.

“Bunnings will stop selling this killer stone immediately if it really cares about Australian workers’ lives.”

The CFMEU called on the retail giant to show leadership by pulling the product off shelves before any government intervention is needed.

“Bunnings made a $2 billion profit last year, surely it can do without a kitchen bench top that workers pay for with their lives,” Mr Smith told Build-it.

“Waiting for a potential ban isn’t good enough when we know engineered stone is killing workers.”

Bunnings to keep manufactured stone on shelves for now

Bunnings director of merchandise Jen Tucker spoke to Build-it to say the retail giant would support any new legislation resulting from the ongoing federal government review but stopped short of promising to take the product off the shelves beforehand.

However, the store does not sell engineered stone to DIY or trade customers to cut and install themselves.

Ms Tucker told Build-it: “The safety of our team and customers is something we take really seriously, and we will continue to monitor and follow advice from the regulatory authorities on this matter.”

“The limited range of engineered stone benchtops we provide through our stores are pre-cut to size before they arrive at a customer’s site.”

Ms Tucker said the retailer was aware of the protests and had contacted CFMEU members on multiple occasions to arrange a meeting with Bunnings representatives, but had not received a reply.

Manufacturers fight back against proposed ban

Last week, Caesarstone, a national supplier and global manufacturer of engineered stone, launched an advertising campaign against any blanket ban, stating it would be “unnecessary and excessive”.

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.”

The CFMEU’s Zack Smith told Build-it that the Minister should agree to a wholesale ban today rather than allowing companies to continue placing profits over lives.
“Federal and state ministers must ban engineered stone, which will kill more and more Australian workers until it’s banned,” he said.

“The alternative is siding with evil corporate giants like Ceasarstone, which puts profits ahead of workers’ lives.”

Mr Smith told Build-it there was no safe level of silica in engineered stone and labelled the Ceasarstone’s pushback against the ban “evil”.

“This is the most blatantly evil corporate campaign I have ever seen,” he said.

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

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

“Caesarstone should be apologising to Australia, but instead it is treating us like morons and telling us Australian lives are disposable.”

Unions unite to force action

Regardless of any government ban, the CFMEU has already pledged to ban engineered stone on all Australian worksites by July 2024.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has now joined that promise, announcing that MUA would ban 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 needs to be stopped immediately.

“It is completely imported, and it’s 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.”

“We won’t be importing it into our ports, it won’t be coming onto our docks, and we won’t be working with it in the construction division,”

To find out more, visit CFMEU’s Stop This Killer Stone Campaign.

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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.