CFMEU launches national campaign, calling for an end to engineered stone

CFMEU launches national campaign, calling for an end to engineered stone

Australia’s largest and most influential construction unions have begun a new media campaign, hoping for a ban on engineered stone products across the country.

The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has begun a media campaign in earnest, saying without a ban, an estimated 100,000 workers could be exposed to silica dust and be subsequently diagnosed with lung diseases like silicosis.

Assistant Secretary at the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Liam O’Brien, appeared on breakfast television this morning, and said that the government needs to take swift action, explaining that the impending rates of silicosis could be “epidemic”.

“We’re on the cusp of another industrial epidemic,” O’Brien said.

“One that would dwarf what we have seen in this country in relation to asbestos”.

The Union has spent considerable funds on a national advertising campaign, calling on all state governments to ban the use of engineered stone, and for the federal government to prevent its importation.

The Union says it will ban its members from working on any engineered stone products if governments fail to act by the middle of next year. The Union represents an estimated 120,000 workers across the country.

New CFMEU National Secretary Zach Smith says that the Union believes the engineered product to be one of the biggest threats that workers will face.

“Engineered stone is the asbestos of the 2020s. Governments must act to stop its importation and use,” he said.

“But if decision-makers won’t act, the CFMEU will. Our Union will ban our members from engineered stone by mid-next year.”

The face of the campaign is Kyle Goodwin, a former engineered stone worker, who received a terminal silicosis diagnosis in 2019, and was given a mere five years to live.

“I used to install kitchen benches. People liked engineered stone because it was cheap. But the dust got into my lungs causing deadly, incurable silicosis.

“That’s too high a price for anyone to pay. Nothing will save my life. But if you join the campaign to stop the importation and manufacture of engineered stone, you can help save someone else’s. Please.”

Ahead of an investigative piece to air on 60 Minutes, which focused on NSW-based operations, SafeWork NSW issued a media response, which can be found in full here.

“SafeWork NSW has been focusing on the dangers posed by respirable crystalline silica (RCS) since 2017 through its 2017–2022 Hazardous Chemicals Exposures Baseline and Reduction Strategy and the NSW Dust Strategy (2020-2022).

“Since October 2019, SafeWork NSW has reviewed 166 matters where workers were diagnosed with silicosis. Sixteen matters were progressed to further investigation with a view to prosecution. Four matters were filed in court for prosecution. Three of these matters are still in court and one matter has resulted in a $25,000 fine to the business.”

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