These Q and A’s will answer commonly asked questions about quartz surfaces, silica and the risk of silicosis to tradespersons.
Q: What are engineered quartz surfaces?
A: Engineered quartz surfaces are an advanced solution for kitchen countertops, bathroom vanities, flooring, wall cladding and other internal applications. They are typically manufactured from over 90% quartz and high‐quality polymer resins and pigments. Quartz surfaces are in use today in millions of homes around the world, and in many environments that require the strictest standards of cleanliness and sterility, including the Starbucks Coffee chain in the US and the McDonald's chain in Australia.
Q: What is silica?
A: Silica is one of the most common compounds on earth. Silica is composed of two elements: silicon and oxygen (silicon dioxide, SiO2). Silica is found in nature in various forms, mainly as sand, and also as rocks and stones such as marble, granite, quartz and cristobalite. Silica is a component of many manufactured products in daily use, such as glass, pottery and quartz surfaces. Silica is very commonly used in construction and at various concentrations in bricks, blocks, tiles, slabs, cement and concrete. Everyone is exposed to silica in their daily lives.
Q: Are quartz surfaces a popular product in Australia?
A: Yes. Australia’s leading manufacturers Caesarstone Australia, Quantum Quartz, Smartstone Australia and Consentino Australia and have been supplying countertops in kitchens and bathrooms in Australian homes for around 20 years.
Q: How do the manufacturers ensure the safety of their products?
A: Members of the Australian Engineered Stone Advisory Group manufacture to the strictest safety standards and their products comply with Government regulations in all states and territories.
Q: Should consumers be concerned about the safety of engineered quartz surfaces?
A: Not at all. Quartz surface are safe for consumer use and meet the most stringent health and safety regulations of every state and territory in Australia.
Q: Can quartz surfaces installed in the home be harmful to the consumer?
A: Absolutely not. Quartz surfaces are completely safe for domestic use and comply with the strictest local and international and national safety standards for consumer use.
The health risk lies in the processing by stonemasons who do not follow recommended installation and safety guidelines, and not in the surfaces themselves.
Q: Are there aspects of the home installation process that are hazardous?
A: A small amount of silica dust is sometimes produced during installation or repair of quartz surfaces in a consumer’s home. This poses no health threat as silicosis and other diseases caused by silica dust develop only as a result of ongoing occupational exposure to silica dust and in circumstances where the correct safety procedures are not followed. Silicosis is purely an occupational disease.
Q: Should manufacturers issue safety warnings to the end users of its products installed in homes, hotels and other locations?
A: No. The products are absolutely safe and the only risk is occupational to stonemasons who do not follow the correct safety procedures.
Q: What is silicosis?
A: Silicosis is an occupational lung disease that is incurable, progressively disabling and sometimes fatal. Silica dust particles become trapped in lung tissue, causing inflammation and scarring, reducing the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen. Safety measures such as wet cutting and the use of effective respiratory protection measures reduce the risks associated with inhaled dust. The finished quartzstone products pose no health hazard.
Q: What is the connection between quartz surface products and silicosis?
A: It is important to point out that silica dust is found in many products in our day‐to‐day lives such as glass, ceramics, semi‐conductors and much more. Quartz contain 90% or more crystalline silica which is present in manufacturing lines as a raw material and in dust derived from the fabrication processes which are required to turn the quartz surfaces into kitchen and bath countertops (cut‐to‐ size per installation by independent stonemasons. Silicosis and other respiratory diseases are caused by prolonged occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica during the fabrication of products containing crystalline silica. However, fabricators can avoid being exposed to the dust by following some simple, but important, safety procedures. Safety is a top priority for the members of the Australian Engineered Stone Advisory Group who seek to educate fabricators about the safest way to deal with their products at all times.
Q: There are claims that artificial stone is more hazardous than natural cut stone. Is this true? If not, what research is available to prove otherwise?
A: Both artificial and natural cut stone produce silica dust and stonemasons work with many raw products that produce silica dust during cutting and polishing. Stonemasons can avoid the risks of silicosis by following the recommended safety procedures and guidelines.
Q: How do manufacturers ensure the safety of product installations?
A: All stonemasons who purchase quartz surfaces from members of the advisory group receive comprehensive safety guidelines and safety warnings with shipped products. In addition, these manufacturers work closely with regulatory authorities to ensure their products comply with the strictest international and local safety standards. An installed quartz surface is as safe as any alternative product.
Q: Are manufacturers responsible for the safety of stonemasons?
A: As stonemasons are independent contractors, manufacturers have no direct responsibility for their conduct while handling our products. However, members of the advisory group provide them instructions and warnings for safe handling and fabrication of products in the interest of their safety and welfare.
Q: Are manufacturers responsible for stonemasons contracting silicosis as a result of their occupation?
A: Manufacturers do not fabricate or install their products and as such have no direct responsibility for the work practices of independent stonemasons and other fabricators. Manufacturers do provide comprehensive health and safety guidelines to every fabricator purchasing their products.
Q: Have manufacturers done enough to educate manufacturers on safety procedures?
A: Members of the advisory group work hard to ensure we comply with all regulatory obligations in respect to educating stonemasons about health and safety procedures and guidelines to avoid exposure to silica dust. We are also working on an accreditation programme for stonemason customers who will be required to comply to continue purchasing our products.
Q: When will the accreditation programme come into force?
A: The advisory group is newly formed and currently developing the accreditation programme. To be effective, it will need to comply with the regulations in all states and we are in the process of talking to governments about establishing a compliant and effective programme.
We will advise on the introduction of the accreditation programme as soon as we can.
Q: What are the safety measures stonemasons should take when handling artificial stone?
A: A Fabrication Good Practice Guide is available on this web site.
Q: How much training do stonemasons receive?
A: Apart from fabrication health and safety information and product safety labels, manufacturers are in regular contact with customers and available to discuss any health or safety concerns they may have. Individual manufacturers have conducted safety workshops for clients.
Q: Has anyone ever died from working with quartzstone products?
A: Stonemasons work with many raw products that produce silica dust during cutting and polishing. The risk of silicosis can be avoided by following the safety procedures and guidelines we provide to all fabricators.
Whilst deaths have been reported around the world, it is not possible to associate them with a single product category.
Q: How do manufacturers protect the safety of employees?
A: Members of the advisory group manufacture products to the highest safety standards to protect the health of employees. Engineered quartz products are absolutely safe as manufactured, prior to fabrication, and while being transported and after being installed.
Our employees do not fabricate the products but do receive comprehensive training on safe handling and are issued safety equipment for use when entering workplaces where the product is being fabricated.
Q: Are manufacturers cooperating with Australian regulators investigating the occupational risks of silicosis?
A: Yes. The Australian Engineered Stone Advisory Group was formed because manufacturers are concerned about the risk of silicosis even though the members do not employ the stonemasons who fabricate the products.
The advisory group is represented on the NSW Government Taskforce and the Queensland Code of Practice working group both of which are reviewing regulations and safety standards and looking at ways to enhance education and work practices. We are also looking to work closely with government and industry bodies in other States and territories.
Q: Are manufacturers working with authorities in the other Australian states?
A: We are looking to work closely with government and industry bodies in other states and territories. We are not aware of any formal inquiries in other Australia jurisdictions, but the advisory group will fully support these forums if/when they are established.
Q: What are the regulators asking from manufacturers?
A: Regulators require us to encourage stonemasons to be aware of all recommended safety procedures and guidelines when working with engineered quartz and similar products.
Q: Have manufacturers violated safety regulations in Australia or other countries?
A: No member of the advisory group has violated regulations anywhere. We work closely with governments, regulators and industry bodies in all markets to ensure our products comply with the strictest local and international safety standards.
Q: Are manufacturers aware of and/or concerned that Australian law firms are advertising for silicosis patients to join a class action?
A: Yes we are aware of this activity and reiterate that exposure to silicosis can be eliminated if the correct safety procedures and guidelines are followed while fabricating our products. Safety is a top priority for manufacturers and we educate stonemasons and our employees about the safest ways to deal with our products.