Engineered stone ban update

New benchtop alternatives and crystalline silica free options

What is crystalline silica?

The most common type of crystalline silica or simply silica is quartz, the main component in engineered stone, a popular choice for kitchen benchtops, bathroom benchtops and other indoor surface applications.

Silica is silicon dioxide, a naturally occurring and widely abundant mineral that forms the major component of most rocks and soils. Found in sand, stone, concrete, mortar, and certain types of clay and stone, silica is used to make a variety of products, including engineered stone, bricks, tiles and some plastics.

When engineered stone is cut dry and fabricated without proper personal protective equipment (PPE), there is a danger that crystalline silica can be inhaled as dust and result in health issues such as silicosis and other chronic respiratory diseases.

Due to continuous dry-cutting, improper PPE during fabrication and lack of regulation by the industry, the number of silicosis cases have increased in the recent years, prompting the Australian government to act and address the growing issue

Engineered stone ban

Based on the Work Health and Safety And Workplace Relations Ministers’ Meeting held on 13 December 2023, the federal health ministers “unanimously agreed to prohibit the use, supply and manufacture of all engineered stone with the majority of jurisdictions to commence the prohibition from 1 July 2024”.

In March 2024, ministers clarified that the prohibition applies engineered stone benchtops, panels and slabs specified that “all sintered stone and porcelain products (including benchtops, panels and slabs) are excluded from the prohibition, and for the avoidance of doubt, clarify that porcelain products and sintered stone for this purpose are products that do not contain resin.”

Alternatives and crystalline silica free products

Due to the ban, the entire building industry in search for other alternative benchtop materials, and perhaps even a crystalline silica free or zero silica product.

Silica is silicon dioxide, a naturally occurring and widely abundant mineral that forms the major component of most rocks and soils. Crystalline silica is present in stone, rocks and rock products such as marble, granite, limestone, slate, shale, and sandstone. This means that almost all natural raw materials and minerals extracted from the earth contain crystalline silica at varying levels and virtually impossible to eliminate.

Although some products may not contain silica, crystalline silica free benchtop surfaces are fairly new to the stone benchtop market and their performance and benefits are yet to be seen.

According to the communique from the work health and safety meeting, ministers noted that “processing alternative products containing crystalline silica will be subject to the stronger regulations on crystalline silica processes, which include a prohibition on uncontrolled processing.”

Exempt from the ban, porcelain and sintered stone surfaces that have minimum or residual crystalline silica content provide the building industry an exceptional alternative to engineered stone. Due to the nature of the products, porcelain and sintered stone can only be processed and cut wet, eliminating the risk of silica dust inhalation from dry cutting.

Porcelain surfaces have been used extensively for generations and proven to be durable and resistant to scratches and stains.

The Sintered Collection

When Smartstone ventured into manufacturing low silica or silica free products, the leading surface supplier had been challenged in maintaining and achieving the same performance as engineered stone with the removal of resin in the mix and replacing quartz content by adding other ingredients like glass. This led Smartstone to develop an entirely new range that is not just superior in performance but also government compliant.

After more than a year of product development, Smartstone launched its new Sintered Collection, a new surface range that elevates the qualities of traditional porcelain to an entirely new level. How? By delivering superior durability, advanced manufacturing capabilities and enhanced natural-stone aesthetics.

Fully compliant with Commonwealth government legislation and exempt from the engineered stone ban, the Sintered Collection is created using a ‘sintering’ process which replicates millions of years of the earth’s metamorphic processes by combining advanced technology with natural fusion techniques.

Being a porcelain product, sintered stone surfaces have been tried and tested for many years for their superior performance and offer a suitable alternative to engineered stone and zero silica products for benchtops and other indoor or outdoor applications.