Calls to ban affordable kitchen feature used by thousands of homeowners renovating their properties increase as tradies fall ill
- An affordable renovation trend has coincided with rising rates of a deadly illness
- Tradespeople are contracting silicosis from cutting artificial stone benchtops
- It is an irreversible lung disease caused by inhaling particles of silica dust
- Many who are diagnosed with the condition are aged in their 20s and 30s
- Calls to ban the popular marble alternative are growing louder amid health fears
Calls to ban popular artificial stone benchtops are growing louder amid rising rates of a deadly respiratory illness among Australian construction workers.
The benchtops, which have become popular in recent years as an affordable alternative to the marble or granite traditionally used to cover kitchen counter space, are attractive and thousands of dollars cheaper than their natural counterparts.
But the National Dust Diseases Taskforce says the renovation trend has coincided with soaring rates of silicosis – an incurable and debilitating lung disease described as the biggest threat to tradespeople since asbestos.
It is a progressive and irreversible disease contracted by inhaling tiny particles of silica dust that settle in the lungs.
Artificial stone benchtops have become popular in recent years as an affordable alternative to the marble or granite traditionally used to cover kitchen counter space (stock image)
The particles become airborne during the cutting, polishing and grinding of engineered stone, a common substitute for marble benchtops which is made of about 90 percent crystalline silica.
Many who are diagnosed with the condition are aged in their 20s and 30s, prompting tradies and medical professionals to push for change.
The latest latest meeting of the task force saw members agree on a ban of artificial stone if other measures to protect workers’ safely fail, news.com.au reported.
The issue became headline news in early 2019 when Gold Coast stonemason Anthony White died of silicosis at the age of 36.
What is silicosis?
Silicosis is a long-term lung disease caused by inhaling unsafe levels of silica dust, usually over a period of many years.
You are at risk of silicosis if you work with quartz, sand, stone, soil, granite, brick, cement, grout, mortar, bitumen or engineered stone products.
These materials contain the mineral silica and working with them can create a very fine dust that’s easily inhaled.
Once inside your lungs, the dust particles can scar the tissue, resulting in the condition known as silicosis.
Those most at risk of contracting the disease are stonemasons, stonecutters, potters, miners, sandblasters and anyone working in construction or demolition.
Source: Health Direct Australia
His younger brother, former stonemason Shane Parata, broke down during an interview on Sydney’s Triple M radio station as he urged fellow tradesmen to reconsider their future in the industry.
Mr Parata, who had recently been diagnosed with the condition himself, questioned why companies are still using products that pose such a grave risk to up to 500,000 stonemasons across Australia.
‘Why are we still using this product we know is still killing people? It’s killed one, it’s killed my brother,’ he said at the time.
Mr Parata said there wasn’t enough emphasis on how bad the product can be, and how it was treated like granite or marble.
Because of his lower levels of exposure, Mr Parata suffers from a milder case of silicosis than his brother had.
Anthony White (pictured) was believed to be the first tradesman to die after experts warned about engineered stone in 2018, calling it ‘the next asbestos’
Shane Parata (pictured) was diagnosed with silicosis days before it killed his brother Anthony
The National Task Force has received submissions from unions, workplace experts and advocacy groups including the Australian Cancer Council, arguing for enhanced safety measures.
The NSW government responded by warning that a blanket ban would result in widespread job losses and suggesting ‘effective risk controls’ in its place.
It noted that dry cutting has already been banned in NSW, Queensland and Victoria, while a lower standard for the level of silica dust considered safe in the workplace and a new national code of practice have been implemented.
A final report by the task force is set to be handed down in June.
Meanwhile, Australian stonemasons affected by the disease are leading a class action against manufacturers.