Views: 0 Author: Site Editor Publish Time: 2024-01-10 Origin: Site
Australia has taken a major step towards a world-first total ban on engineered stone products in response to rising rates of silicosis from dry-cutting silica products commonly used in kitchen and bathroom benches.
Safety regulators in the UK, US and Canada have warned that respirable crystalline silica is a cause of silicosis, a serious and irreversible lung disease that can cause permanent disability and early death.
Just a few decades on, the allure of the wonder product has been stymied. A direct link has been found between processing the quartz compound used to make engineered stone, and silicosis – the debilitating, incurable and sometimes fatal lung disease that has been associated with masonry work since antiquity, and is the world’s oldest recognised occupational disease. Its cause: breathing in too many fine silica dust particles for too long.
Some engineered stone contains over 95% silica (while granite typically contains about 30%) and the risk to those processing it is significant. WorkSafe Australia has recommended a complete ban on its import and installation, and major retailers including Ikea and Bunnings have promised to phase out the product.
Dr Ashleigh Hood, a geoscientist at the University of Melbourne, says silica – a compound of silicon and oxygen – is everywhere. “Nearly 30% of the Earth’s crust is silicon. It’s the second-most common element, coming right after oxygen.” In its most common form, silica is quartz, which means you’ll find varying levels of silica in sand at the beach and in concrete. Many natural stones such as sandstone and granite have high levels of silica, and it is in bricks, pottery glazes and even some plastics.
When is it dangerous?
Dr Ryan Hoy, head of the Occupational Respiratory Clinic at Melbourne’s Alfred hospital, says: “It all comes down to particle size.” The risks are “in particular when workers take a circular saw or a grinder to it”. In those cases, the dust emitted will be extremely fine, tiny enough to get deep into the lungs. It can even linger invisibly in the air for days afterwards.
“Silica is in concrete, rock and sand – we can’t ban it,” Hoy says. “It goes well beyond the stone benchtop industry who are unfortunately the canaries in the coalmine.” He notes there are many other industrial practices and products where risks are overlooked. “What we’ve seen in recent years is one of the largest outbreaks of silicosis in Australian history. It relates directly to unsafe work practices with a really high silica content product.”
Reassuringly, Hoy and other lung specialists Guardian Australia spoke with agree that transient encounters with silica dust, such as doing a one-off home renovation or walking past a construction site, are unlikely to cause problems long term. But for workers exposed to high levels for years, it’s a different story.
“It’s about cumulative lifetime exposure,” Hoy says. While there are no hard figures on how much exposure needs to occur before disease develops, Hoy points out that unlike mesothelioma, a cancer which can present decades after a single exposure to asbestos dust, silicosis is a result of chronic scarring of the lungs which takes considerable, ongoing exposure.
Is having an engineered stone benchtop unsafe?
In short, no. Hoy says already-installed benchtops that are being used as they’re intended pose “zero” risk to those living with them. “Day to day it’s not an issue. But we are concerned about when people choose to update their homes.”
Wherever you live, given the risks involved in cutting engineered stone, keeping benchtops intact during the removal process is prudent.
What can I use instead?
solid surface materials which can be made to resemble anything from marble to powder-coated steel, are really hard-wearing and versatile
One of the benefits of Letu Industrial Solid Surface is that it contains zero silica, making it safe for everyone to make a responsible surface selection to specify, manufacture and install into homes and businesses across Australia.
When the time comes to refurbish or renew your countertops surface, you can be safe in the knowledge that Letu Industrial Solid Surface can be renewed or removed without generating silica dust in the process.
As Letu Industrial Solid Surface contains zero silica this ensures no risk of silica exposure when working at the fabrication level or during installation on building sites.
Letu Industrial can be used in a wide range of applications, including:
Kitchens and Bathrooms,Healthcare facilities,Aged care facilities,Educational institutions,Public bathrooms, and Multi-residential buildings.
It is a highly versatile material that can be moulded and shaped into almost any design, making it perfect for creating customised and unique interiors.
By choosing Letu Industrial Solid Surface, you can be part of the movement to protect our tradespeople and create a safer, healthier work environment. It is a material that meets your needs and exceeds your expectations in both design and safety.