Home retail giant IKEA has confirmed its decision to stop selling engineered stone, through stores in Australia, will not be rolled out globally.
It made the decision to stop selling engineered stone in Australia after the publication of a report by government agency Safe Work Australia.
The report called for a ban on the composite material, due to health concerns for tradespeople.
Australian DIY retailer Bunnings has also made the decision to stop selling engineered stone products in its stores.
Health bodies have raised concerns about possible risks to tradepeople working with engineered stone worktops, which may contain higher levels of silica than natural stone.
The concerns are based upon long-term exposure to breathing in silica dust created during fabrication.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK reports: “Stoneworkers can suffer ill health and disease caused by Respirable Crystaline Silica (RCS) in the stone dust that they breathe in.
“These include silicosis, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
“Silica is a natural substance found in most rocks, sand and clay and in products such as bricks and concrete.
“In the workplace these materials create dust when they are cut, sanded, carved etc.
“Some of this dust may be fine enough to breathe deeply into the lungs and cause harm to health. The fine dust is called respirable crystalline silica (RCS).”
The Worktop Fabricators Federation (WFF) points out engineered stone can be fabricated safely, as a statement said: “As the current HSE guidance makes clear: ‘Products containing silica can be processed safely when proper controls are put in place.
“‘We would urge all manufacturers and fitters to ensure that they use suitable controls to protect their workers and themselves from inhaling silica dust’.”
The HSE offers guidelines for stonemasons on how to work safely – Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) guidance to control exposure to Respirable Crystaline Silica (RCS).
Commenting on its decision to stop selling engineered stone in Australia, a statement provided by IKEA read: “The decision to phase out engineered stone products from the range is only applicable for IKEA Australia and was made proactively in the light of the anticipated local regulatory change.
“IKEA will not phase out products made of engineered stone in other markets.
“We would like to emphasise that the finalised engineered stone worktops have been tested and are safe to use by the customers.
“IKEA works closely with custom-made engineered stone suppliers to ensure they follow the highest safety standards for environmental and working conditions.
“We conduct IWAY audits to control that these requirements are followed. If we discover non-compliance with our requirements, we immediately address the issues.”
General secretary of the Worktop Fabricators Federation Chris Pateman said an outright ban on all engineered stone “sounds a bit like a hammer to crack a walnut”.
Offering advice to kitchen and bathroom retail showrooms, he said: “We are, of course, aware of the headlines. We are aware that some studios are sufficiently concerned to be asking WFF members questions about silica.
“WFF is putting together a set of FAQs to help retailers and designers understand the issues in a bit more depth. This should be out in the next week or so.”