In a groundbreaking move, Australia has become the first country to announce a comprehensive ban on engineered stone beginning next year, signaling a significant shift in the interior design industry. This decision comes as a response to the rising cases of silicosis, a debilitating lung disease linked to the handling and cutting of engineered stone.
This means even quartz, an engineered stone, that is widely used in the U.S. will also be banned. Will the U.S. follow Australia’s new ban? How will this effect the interior design industry?
What is Engineered Stone?
Engineered stone, often referred to as quartz or quartzite, is a man-made material created by combining crushed stone (usually quartz crystals) with resins, polymers, and pigments. This combination is then molded and processed to create slabs or blocks that can be used in various applications, particularly in kitchen and bathroom countertops.
Engineered stone is valued for its durability, non-porous nature, and consistent appearance. It is known for being resistant to scratches, and stains, making it a popular choice for kitchens, bathrooms, and commercial applications. Additionally, it comes in a wide range of colors and patterns, offering versatility in design. However, the production process involves the use of resins and polymers, which may contain some level of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and there have been concerns about silica dust exposure during fabrication, leading to health issues for workers. The mentioned ban on engineered stone in Australia is driven by health concerns related to silicosis, a lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust.
The Silicosis Epidemic
The ban follows a years-long campaign led by health professionals, trade unions, and affected workers who drew attention to the alarming surge in silicosis cases. This artificial material, has been a silent contributor to a health crisis within the industry. The ban reflects a commitment to worker safety and public health, mirroring lessons learned from the prolonged asbestos debacle. Liam O'Brien, Australian Council of Trade Unions’ assistant secretary, has shifted his focus to the United States, collaborating with counterparts at the American Federation of Labor. This partnership aims to address emerging research on the health risks associated with engineered stone, emphasizing the need for proactive measures in safeguarding the well-being of workers in the stone cutting industry.
The Global Impact
Australia's decisive action is reverberating globally, with health experts, trade unions, and governments worldwide taking notice. California and London are among the regions closely monitoring the Australian experience, contemplating potential measures to address health concerns related to engineered stone. The swift response to ban engineered stone suggests a collective determination not to repeat the mistakes of the past, where the dangers of asbestos took decades to be fully recognized and addressed.
Implications for the Interior Design Industry
As the first country to enforce such a ban, Australia's decision will likely have far-reaching consequences for the interior design industry. Designers, manufacturers, and consumers may need to reconsider their material choices, leading to a reevaluation of design practices and preferences. The ban underscores the industry's responsibility to prioritize the health and well-being of both workers and end-users.
Australia's ban on engineered stone marks a pivotal moment in the ongoing dialogue about health and safety in the interior design sector. It prompts a critical examination of materials, regulations, and ethical considerations within the industry. As other regions contemplate similar measures, the interior design community faces the challenge of adapting to new norms that prioritize health without compromising creativity and functionality. As designers, our responsibility extends beyond creating aesthetically pleasing spaces to ensuring the safety of trades, clients, and ourselves. This ban on engineered stone in Australia serves as a crucial reminder to redefine our material selection processes, emphasizing the need for greater awareness and consideration of the health implications associated with certain materials in the interior design industry.
While quartz is a material we have grown to regularly specify over the past few years, there are many alternatives that are just as durable, beautiful, and versitile. We love working with our clients to source the best materials suited for the lifestyle, function, and design style.
Guardian News and Media. (2023, December 14). Australia will become the first country to ban engineered stone bench tops. will others follow?. The Guardian.
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