Federal government under pressure to release Safe Work’s benchtop ban report

Federal government under pressure to release Safe Work’s benchtop ban report


Save articles for later

Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.

States and territories are agitating for the release of a secret report on banning the use of deadly engineered stone as the union movement and health experts call for the recommendations to be made public.

Business groups are at loggerheads with unions and health experts, who want a blanket ban on high-concentration crystalline silica slabs – used for fashionable kitchen benchtops but riddling tradies with an incurable disease – after Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke and his state and territory counterparts gave Safe Work Australia six months to investigate the prospect of a prohibition of the substance.

Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke and his state counterparts will discuss a report on banning engineered stone later this year.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

Work health and safety ministers received the report last month but have all declined to discuss its contents ahead of a meeting between them later this year.

The federal government has acknowledged the pressure from states to publicly discuss Safe Work’s advice ahead of the national meeting, which hasn’t yet been given a date.

“A number of jurisdictions have raised the prospect of early release. The government will consult with all jurisdictions before a decision like that is made,” a spokesperson for Burke said.

The report was commissioned after a joint investigation by The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and 60 Minutes revealed workers exposed to silica dust were battling the debilitating symptoms of silicosis while state-based regulators failed to police workplaces effectively.

Workplace exposure to silica dust can lead to debilitating, irreversible lung conditions. Credit: Steven Siewert

Australian Council of Trade Unions assistant secretary Liam O’Brien said silicosis was an “entirely preventable” condition that affected up to a quarter of stonemasons working with engineered stone, which contains up to 95 per cent crystalline silica and urged state, territory and federal governments to ban all products.

“We support governments releasing this report before ministers meet later this year so that there can be appropriate public scrutiny of this significant issue,” O’Brien said.

The Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand said the report should be released so its experts could begin implementing recommendations or push to improve them if they weren’t rigorous enough.

Dr Graeme Edwards, a former member of the national dust diseases taskforce and a Royal College of Physicians (RACP) fellow, said he couldn’t see any justification for the report being kept hidden.

Queensland’s Industrial Relations Minister, Grace Grace, repeated her commitment to banning engineered stone, adding the “best way to manage a risk in the workplace is to remove it all together if you can.” But she said the embargoed report from Safe Work was not Queensland’s to release.

“We are currently considering it and I look forward to upcoming discussions between WHS [work health and safety] Ministers regarding a response,” she said.

Speaking at a dinner hosted by law firm Sparke Helmore earlier this year, Burke warned banning manufactured stone products outright could have unintentional consequences.

“The issue that we will have to weigh up is, we don’t want to create a perverse outcome, where we in fact push people to a more dangerous product because we’ve done a ban across the board if it turns out that some forms of manufacturing stone are, in fact, proven to be safer than natural stone,” he said.

He qualified that he didn’t know if that would be found, “but effectively, that’s what we’re weighing up to make sure later this year, to make sure that we don’t end up with perverse outcomes.”

The NSW government submitted to Safe Work’s inquiry that 40 per cent crystalline silica should be the cut-off for the product, while the Victorian government spruiked its own regime of licensing users of engineered stone.

Master Builders Australia said it would support a ban on kitchen slabs with more than 40 per cent silica, a substance that causes irreversible lung damage, but only if tradesmen tasked with removing or modifying already installed benchtops aren’t subject to additional red tape.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry opposes a blanket ban on engineered stone as well as a licensing scheme for suppliers, arguing all products have some level of risk and “it is detrimental to shift thinking towards a defining line or label of ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’.”

The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.

Most Viewed in Politics

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article