Engineered Stone Ban: Queensland Builders Caught in Limbo, Need Answers

Katherine McCallum
May 20, 2024
min read
Australian construction worker at stone building

From the 1st of July 2024, the Australian Government has imposed a ban on the sale, manufacture, and installation of engineered stone. However, with the ban looming, many in the construction industry still need answers on how this affects the materials that they use. 

Why Does the Ban Need to Happen?

Engineered stone contains amounts of silica. When the stone is machined, such as being cut using power tools or drilled into, it produces respirable crystalline silica (RCS). If inhaled, it can lead to serious health conditions affecting the lungs, including silicosis. 

Silicosis has been a growing concern over recent years, with almost 600,000 Australians at risk of developing it due to exposure. It’s strongly believed that over 10,000 people will develop cancer in their lifetime as a result of inhaling RCS.

All stone contains silica, but the difference with engineered stone is the fact that these particles are much smaller, making them much more easily inhaled, as well as having a much higher toxicity level. 

According to Safe Work Australia, the stone products that will be affected contain more than 1% silica, are manufactured by combining the stone with other components like resin or pigments and undergo a hardening process. 

Builders’ Confusion

Despite these guidelines, there are many in the construction industry that need more clarification from the Australian Government around the ban. Engineered stone is an incredibly popular choice as a building material, and contractors like Troy Prien whose company specialises in creating kitchen worktops feel that there hasn’t been enough discussion around next steps or a transition phase. 

Prien states that he is “happy it’s been banned to keep our guys safe” but worries about “what direction [he] can take moving forward.”

Construction projects including kitchen remodels aren’t just quick transactions, and there is a lot of planning, scheduling, and quotes that need sorting out and agreeing to before things get underway. Businesses like Prien’s are having to rapidly requote projects that fall on the opposite side of the ban, something which is costing them time, money, and even custom. 

Currently, businesses are left in the lurch, and urgently waiting for further guidance from the Government. Further details were due back in March 2024, but at the time of writing in late April they are still yet to materialise. 

Urgent Action is Needed

Prominent figures in the construction industry are urging the Government to provide answers, and sooner rather than later. They include the Master Builder Australia CEO Denita Wawn, who has criticised the lack of proactive planning involved for the construction industry after the ban comes into effect. She mentions that the “uncertainty … could have been avoided if governments followed best practice and announced transition and implementation arrangements” when the ban was announced last year. 

Are There Any Alternatives?

With engineered stone being so popular for construction among both builders and customers both for its low price and versatility, many are now trying to find out what the best alternative will be moving forward. 

A popular contender is zero silica engineered stone, but it is still unclear whether this will get caught in the ban, as it still contains resins ad polymers. Aside from that, the industry is still scratching their heads, and it may even be that they switch to natural stone or porcelain, something that could heavily affect the wallets of both businesses and their customers. 

The Potential for Legal Action

Not only could the ban cost companies' valuable business, but it also raises questions surrounding their existing assets and stock levels of engineered stone, much of which has been ordered before news of the ban. Such unusable stock could cost businesses tens of thousands of dollars to not only replace, but also dispose of. 

As a result, many in the sector are calling for a class action lawsuit in order to gain compensation for the loss of income as well as the additional costs that this ban will incur. 

Is the Ban Unfair on Queensland’s Builders?

It bears reiterating that the ban on engineered stone is a national, not a state one. This in particular has caused uproar among Queensland’s builders, as for a long time they have been under stricter safety regulations designed to minimise the risk that engineered stone poses. Is it fair that they are being punished for a lack of safety in other parts of the country?

While these Queensland businesses will be hit by the cost of lost stock, they also bear an additional financial burden. In order to comply to the state’s current safety procedures, they have had to invest heavily in equipment and training that other firms across Australia have not.

What Can the Government Do?

There are multiple ways that the Government can help to ease confusion and uncertainty around the engineered stone ban. 

  • Provide a buyback scheme for old engineered stone stock, or payment for it to be safely disposed of. 
  • Provide case-by-case applications for compensation to account for Queensland and other businesses who had previously invested in safety measures for handling engineered stone. 
  • Provide a full list of alternative materials that will not be affected by the ban, including relevant safety practices for handling and using them. 
  • Offer grants or subsidies to ease the transition to alternative, more costly materials. 
  • Delay the ban until full guidance can be published including transition frameworks and support schemes. 

Of course, it still remains to be seen as to what will happen regarding the future of many businesses up and down the country, as they remain in limbo about their next actions. We only hope that the waiting game will soon end and our builders will have a brighter, safer way forward.

If you are worried about the effects of working with engineered stone, or how to move forward in light of the ban, we’re here to help. Schedule a conversation with us and we’ll help you set solid foundations to work from. 

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