16 bench top materials tested by Choice.
Apparently so. They publish this disclaimer, also with a number of interesting embedded links. Beyond that this disclaimer seems to ‘speak for itself’ re ‘yes’ to dust, silicosis, etc.
Other sites have been equally or more interesting including this one, as a survey of products.
Depending on your home and the decor, concrete bench tops can look amazing. But much like stainless steel benchtops, it would suit an industrial look rather than say country kitchen
Unfortunately, there is silica in concrete too. Plenty. All that sand and cement.
You can get polished concrete floors as well as benches, some have their whole house that way. Some companies specialise in concrete drilling and cutting, people operate these machines all day.
Silicosis has been known in mining and quarrying for a long time, tunnel borers are exposed to rock dust constantly.
You could say the same about natural stone, some contains large amounts of silica. Stone masons have been working stone for along time and using power tools for decades. All those shiny headstones were not done by hand.
How is it that the only occupation in the news for giving their workers silicosis is engineered stone? Perhaps there is more to this than the amount of silica in the material.
We would need to change the way we build houses and tower blocks if concrete were to become an issue. That would blow the new housing targets out of the water especially as high rise would become impossible. Can’t see bamboo (fast-growing, renewable, sustainable, ticks all the boxes) residences becoming widespread.
Off the topic, but worth the question.
Silicosis is a known disease with a long history >100 years. The focus on occupations connected with engineered stone materials it is suggested is due to the relatively rapid rise in cases attributed to use of those types of products, and the high incidence rate.
There is an acknowledged lack of reliable statistics for all causes.
One exception may be the coal mining industries in NSW and Qld where workers and workplace related illness prescriptively monitored. It’s not to say they are without failings too. However in comparison the workforce working with bench top materials for kitchens and other wet/work areas has not been as rigorously regulated or organised.
Note regulation of WH&S is principally a state/territory responsibility. Health management and disease prevention is shared with the Commonwealth. Clear as ….?
All building and construction materials have their advantages and disadvantages. The Choice review of benchtop material choices (11 types tested) includes bamboo. Despite its often suggested use as an ideal material for cutting boards, it has limitations when used in a bench top.
Bamboo in use as a structural material is a discussion for another topic. “Ticks All the boxes”? There are many more than three to consider.
Silicosis is a potential health hazard in many industries. I first became aware of it in the 1990s, doing some work for the quarrying and refractory industries. At the time, air sampler were worn by personnel exposed to dusts.
The main issue with engineered stone is many individuals can have high dust exposure from its cutting and are working in environments where there are not measures implemented to reduce dust generation/exposure and potentially not wearing appropriate personnel protection equipment.
Silica is naturally present in airborne dust, however, exposure rates are generally very low. Silica dust becomes a problem when it is in high concentrations and inhaled regularly, like those who work in workplaces where the dust is a potential hazard and at high concentrations.
The risk to a homeowner where engineering stone has been cut and dust generated is unknown as there would be many factors which affect potential exposure and risks to the individual. One would hope that the builders/tradies take necessary measures to prevent exposure to others.
Not to worry about concrete. Typically it is poured, and if cutting or drilling or polishing is needed there will be special tools and water involved. The issue is dust that can be breathed in. Water will suppress that dust.
Would the greater issue for the home owner purchasing any of the higher risk stone products be a moral one?
How can a home owner be 100% confident their product from first source to install has done no harm?
For a home owner undertaking a renovation, would it be risk free permitting your installing contractor to cut or grind the product on your property?
The stone working industry which includes those supplying granite and marble bench tops have long known about the risks of silica dust. In particular from working with granite. It should be no surprise that a higher silica content engineered stone product also had exposure risks.
The industry (importers, suppliers, finishers/installers) and governments over time appear to have failed. The latest calls for a ban on the products reflects the degree of concern.
Not really as the OP was concerned about the health issues with engineered stone and so that issue and whether there are similar issues with competing benches made of concrete or stone are both relevant.
In context, I’m open minded.
It was intended to qualify the reply I was providing, given it went beyond just the risks of silicosis from working with engineered stone products.
My take was the OP had already decided to look at other products. Agree having one’s eyes opened is valuable -
My first and personal exposure to silica dust risks and their control has a 40 year history. When we ordered our current engineered stone bench tops it subsequently came as an unwelcome surprise to hear of all the failings in the industry and by the businesses profiting. We can’t say all have failed their workers. To note:
If we could be confident of that there would be no problem with either natural or engineered stone being worked either.
you can’'t go past granite - my Granite was installed 1997 - it still looks BEAUTIFUL.
. When I updated my Kitchen, I used the SAME Granite on the Kitchen-Island & reUsed the old-Granite to the Powder-Room & the Outdoor-Kitchen.
Protected against heat… protected against water. Granite can be used inside and outside… Granite can be used on Floors, on steps.
as a precaution, for heat protection on the Island, I use a heat-pad when I place hot-pan directly from the stovetop…
low, low maintenance - just a wipe down. …
Make sure you GET a Great Stone Installer… - there are alot of Installers that are ONLY accustomed to the Éngineered Stone products.
Which stone sealing product did you use and how often was it reapplied?
We have a Corian vanity top - I love it. It feels nice to touch and is not cold like stone.
I think it’s quite expensive though.
We had our kitchen renovated 12 months ago and chose engineered stone (YDL). We looked at laminate but apparently there are few tradesmen who can cut and fit it properly these days—our high-end kitchen renovation firm recommended against it. The fuss about engineered stone is a beat-up. If OH&S requirements for cutting are followed it’s safe. Laminate, granite and cement dust are just bad for the lungs if a tradie is silly enough to cut and grind it without protection.
I think it very likely that engineered stone materials will be under the same legal protocols as asbestos soon. It is the same silicon in minerals after all.
New use, banned. Existing, handled very carefully.
At difference to the published assessment by Safe Work Australia. It’s not a political view point. It’s the considered advice of independent experts who determine the OH&S requirements necessary. Note my highlight.
The recommendation for a prohibition is based on the following:
- Engineered stone workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) are significantly over-represented in silicosis cases. Engineered stone workers are being diagnosed with silicosis at a much younger age than workers from other industries.
- Engineered stone is physically and chemically different to natural stone. The high levels of RCS generated by working with engineered stone, as well as the differing properties of this RCS, are likely to contribute to more rapid and severe disease.
- There is no toxicological evidence of a ‘safe’ threshold of crystalline silica content in engineered stone, or that other chemicals found in engineered stone do not pose a health risk to workers.
- Silicosis and silica-related diseases are preventable. However, a persistent lack of compliance with, and enforcement of, the obligations imposed under WHS laws across the engineered stone industry at all levels have not protected workers from the health risks associated with RCS.
Safe Work Australia provided the Decision RIS to Commonwealth, state and territory work health and safety (WHS) ministers on 16 August 2023 for their consideration.
For those importers, suppliers and businesses providing the end product, it may from their view point be a beat up. Do they genuinely know the product can be safety worked and handled? The product has been imported and installed in Australian premises for many years. The harm to those working with it is now significant. One is left to ask if those business really know how to with zero risk, and if they did for so long, why did they not act at all times to ensure zero harm? The diseases arising have no cure.
The decision on what comes next is with all the State, Territory and Commonwealth Ministers.