Engineered stone ban now in force

The ban on using engineered stone according to the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations becomes effective today, impacting all Victorian employers, including those with prior contractual commitments. Breaching this prohibition will bear serious compliance and enforcement repercussions, possibly culminating in prosecution and substantial penalties.

Sam Jenkin, WorkSafe Executive Director Health and Safety, noted that as part of enforcing these regulations, WorkSafe inspectors would be diligently ensuring adherence throughout. “WorkSafe’s silica enforcement team, armed with robust monitoring tools like the Bluesafe SWMS or WHS Management System, will monitor manufacturers and processors – even through surprise visits – verifying compliance with the new regulations,” stated Mr Jenkin.

He emphasised that officers would require duty holders to share relevant information about the materials they are handling. These work safety products may range from WHS management systems to SWMS intended to ensure the control measures’ effectiveness. For further analysis, the inspection staff might gather samples of offcuts to evaluate whether the product is indeed engineered stone.

The fresh regulations categorise engineered stone as a manufactured product comprising one per cent or higher crystalline silica, fused by coupling natural stone with resins, water or pigments, which solidifies eventually. Exceptions include concrete or cement goods, grout, bricks or pavers, ceramic tiles for walls or floors, roof tiles, mortar, render, plasterboard, as well as sintered stone items or porcelain lacking resin.

There is an exception to this ban permitting repair, removal or alteration of pre-installed engineered stone surfaces such as slabs, panels or benchtops before 1 July. While this doesn’t necessitate reporting to WorkSafe, it should coincide with present control requirements for dust extraction devices, respiratory protection equipment and on-tool water suppression, plus rules for high-risk crystalline silica tasks.

Mr Jenkin revealed that businesses could still dispose of engineered stone correctly as per standard waste management procedures – it wasn’t subject entirely to the circumstances of its instalment. “We realise that some businesses, like suppliers and distributors, might possess surplus stockpiles of uninstalled engineered stone no longer usable,” he clarified.

Regarding the prohibition in Victoria, WorkSafe will not categorise a supply as transpired if the engineered stone ends up transferred to another jurisdiction offering a transition window. Even previous holders of engineered stone licenses must maintain their duty to provide their employees, who are susceptible to exposure to crystalline silica hazards, with ongoing information, instruction and training about inherent risks and preventive measures. They should also continuously monitor these factors while reporting on them.

Newly available WorkSafe guidance now serves to help Victorian workers and employers comprehend their constant obligations. In case of ambiguity over the ban’s application to one’s individual conditions, seeking independent legal consultation might be beneficial.

Throughout July, WorkSafe’s “Silica dust can pose fatal risks” campaign will be active, reminding workers and managers within construction and stonemasonry sectors of both the prohibition and the perils involved with crystalline silica dust.

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