7 December 2023

It's not just about the percentage of silica.

On 13 December, the Australian Government will be handing down a decision on whether or not to ban engineered stone. I went directly to an authority figure to find out the details surrounding this decision, approaching one of the leading stone suppliers, with one of the most technologically advanced stone production facilities in Australia. I also read the ‘Decision Regulation Impact Statement’ (RIS) produced by Safe Work Australia in August 2023.

The first Australian case of silicosis associated with engineered stone was reported in 2015. This impending decision is about managing the risks of respirable crystalline silica (RCS) and putting the safety of our stone workers first.

Some industry experts are saying it is the percentage of silica that is the issue, however this is not actually the only problem. Silica is present in many forms of stone, including natural marble with around 2% silica, right through to engineered stones at 40% to 97% silica. However, as explained to me, there is a distinct difference between the type of dust that comes from cutting natural stone compared to cutting engineered stone. The molecular structure and density of the silica is less fine in marble, compared to the ultra fine dust in engineered stone, which stays airborne for longer and is more easily absorbed into the lungs. It is due to the ‘baking’ process of engineered stone. As noted in the RIS, “RCS produced from engineered stone has different physical properties from that produced from natural stone, including a greater proportion of very small (nanoscale) particles of RCS which can penetrate deeper into the lungs."

Although some engineered stone companies have recently reduced their silica content down to 40%, a similar percentage as natural granite, the report handed down by Workplace Australia suggests that there is no medical evidence to support that low silica content was safer, noting that “The only way to ensure that another generation of Australian workers do not contract silicosis from such work is to prohibit its use, regardless of its silica content.”

Although the official decision is still 6 days away, I presume that all engineered stone will be banned, no matter what the silica content. Ultra compacts and porcelain based stones will be OK. This decision will have a massive impact on our interior design industry, as with many other connected industries. There will be a transition period, however, this may also lead to a stock shortage of engineered stone.

As with acceptance of a rise of all costs of construction over the past few years, this too will come to be accepted as a higher cost, for alternative stones compared to engineered stone. It is a transition that morally and ethically we must go through, to protect the lives of our trades.

So what does this mean for clients? Already having engineered stone in your home is completely safe, as you are not cutting it. However for those about to build or renovate their spaces, there are so many beautiful alternatives available - solid surfaces such as Corian, porcelain based products such as Dekton, wood and of course beautiful natural stones such as marble.


Update 15 December 2023:

So proud that the Australian Government took a stand! Engineered stone was officially banned in Australia on 13 December 2023. The lives of our trades are priceless and must be put above all else.

With so many beautiful alternatives available, many thousands of gorgeous kitchens, bathrooms, laundries and mud rooms will still be brought to life.

There is a transition period up to July 2024, however, be aware, that if you do still insist on ordering engineered stone, you may have difficulty finding someone to install it, and, although you order it, it may not be available when it comes time to final measure and cut, as many companies in Australia stocking any engineered stone will most likely ship all of their stock overseas.

What will I be recommending to clients? Well, that really comes down to the aesthetic and functionality requirements. On a personal note, being a girl who has always loved the natural patina on live brass, and the aged look of timber, gorgeous marble would be my choice.


Safe Work Australia (Aug. 2023), Decision Regulation Impact Statement: Prohibition on the use of engineered stone.




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