Construction Health and Safety New Zealand is calling for swifter action over the deadly effects of dust from engineered stone benchtops, following in the steps of Australian construction workers and unions calling for reform, concerned by the prevalence of work-related exposure and health concerns related to the products.
CHASNZ says the Australian proposal to ban silica-engineered stone – which is still in the canvassing and consideration phase by the federal government – should be considered in New Zealand or controlled through a national licensing system.
CHASNZ chief executive Chris Alderson explained that eliminating the danger to workers’ health needed action from the government and the construction sector.
New Zealand Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff said he also wanted to see faster action on the safety issues surrounding silicosis. “We think there should be a greater sense of urgency, as this concerns the wellbeing of so many workers.”
The concern over the safety of engineered stone is entering the public space as well, with homeowners being urged to consider using alternatives to engineered stone benchtops.
In New Zealand, an estimated 130 businesses are processing engineered stone. The industry has been, to date, slow to adopt the accreditation scheme, which is aimed at improving safety standards, primarily because it is voluntary.
New Zealand’s Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woods explained that he expects the report from WorkSafe to be returned to him before the end of the financial year, which will include recommendations to protect engineered stone workers better and is likely to mirror improving safety standards being implemented across Australia.
“I understand WorkSafe has signalled to industry that its progress on managing risks hasn’t been fast enough and will now be looking to take enforcement measures.
“I am currently awaiting advice from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment around regulatory options, however, I have advised officials that I am willing to consider all options, and nothing is off the table,” said Woods.