GENERAL STATEMENT – ENGINEERED STONE MANUFACTURERS ASSOCIATION (ASTA WORLD-WIDE)
AStA – the Agglomerated Stone Manufacturers Association – was formed in 2010 to promote Environmental Health and Safety standards with all stakeholders in the agglomerated stone industry, including manufacturers, fabricators and their employees.
Our products are sold and distributed around the world in slab form, which before reaching our end consumers need further processing by stonemasons (also known as fabricators). More specifically, our businesses focus on the kitchen and bath countertop market.
Although our products themselves do not pose any risks to end consumers once installed, it is during their manufacturing and fabrication that the tradesmen performing these tasks are at risk of being exposed to high levels of RCS1 containing dust. Uncontrolled exposure to RCS dust, brought about by improper fabrication, may lead to Silicosis and other occupational respiratory dust related diseases. It is important that all companies and workers who perform these tasks fully understand the risks of such exposure and follow best practices that ensure their tasks are completely safe to perform.
Unfortunately, some employees and employers do not appreciate the gravity of the danger, aided by the fact that some of the diseases take many years to unfold. These factors, accompanied by the slow development of governmental occupational guidelines and enforcement have negatively impacted the compliance in the fabrication industry.
While we agree it is incumbent on all employers to ensure that their workers have the necessary means of protection and implement them properly, and while we as product manufacturers, have always communicated the most updated information about our products (such information has been shared via proper labeling warnings, safety data sheets, good practices guides, instructional videos and conventions) it seems further action to education might be required.
And so, as our members have consistently informed fabricators and tradesmen about risks associated with RCS, and have delivered information on the procedures and practices that must be complied with to protect their employees, in some cases, poor adherence seems evident. This fact is tragic, cosidering is well established that Silicosis, and other dust occupational diseases, are 100% preventable. Engineered stone surfaces can be fabricated and installed with no safety issues or health hazards if it is performed according to the best practices.
Recent developments have demonstrated that unsafe practices are still a reality for some tradesmen. AStA World Wide expresses its deepest sympathy for anyone who has contracted silicosis by simply doing their job, and are fully committed to the eradication of any occupational disease in our industry. However, The engineered stone industry is only one of many industries where workers are exposed to silica dust. As way of example, the official data of Spain´s National Institute of Silicosis for the period 2008-2021 reflects that less than 9% of the silicosis cases diagnosed are related to stone fabricators. Other sectors as mining or slate are over 30%. Likewise, in Australia, almost half of cases of silicosis reported for the period 2000-2019 are from industries outside of engineered stone and it is estimated that up to 600,000 Australian workers are potentially being exposed to silica dust each year across a wide range of industries including quarrying, construction, tunnelling, mining and many manufacturing processes2.
It seems that the target of guaranteeing the safety of tradesmen involved in our value chain – as well as in all relevant industries – cannot be achieved without adequate governmental involvement. We ask health and safety regulators and stakeholders to:
- Update existing standards and rules; and most importantly –
- Enforce said standards in the fabrication industry.
As a source of inspiration, we believe governments and regulators can look at the state of Victoria’s licensing scheme, which within a relatively short period of less than 3 years managed to dramatically improve the working conditions by requiring fabricators to become licensed and allowing sale of products only to licensed fabricators.
We stive for all of our customers to be completely committed to operating with our products in a fully safe manner and with that commitment, and we continue to actively promote full safety practices at the workplace and collaborate with all industry members and public authorities to continue increasing awareness in our value chain worldwide.