Bunnings has been urged to immediately pull a range of trendy kitchen benchtops that have been linked to an incurable disease that’s killing tradies.
The national construction union have taken their demands directly to the hardware giant’s chief executive Michael Schneider, warning it was “unconscionable” to keep engineered stone benchtops on Bunnings’ product line up.
“Bunnings has unique market power and a unique place in Australian society. If you were to remove this killer product from your shelves, it would send a powerful message,” CFMEU boss Zach Smith wrote.
The engineered benchtops, which have become a feature in many Australian kitchens and bathrooms, contain a high concentration of crystalline silica.
The silica dust from cutting the engineered stone benchtops can lead to the potentially deadly disease silicosis as well as lung cancer.
Silicosis is incurable and is caused by inhaling tiny particles of silica dust.
In his letter, Mr Smith called for the product to be removed “effective immediately”.
“I am disappointed that, despite all this information being in the public sphere, Bunnings is still advertising and selling high-silica engineered stone products in your stores nationwide,” he said.
“Conversely, it is unconscionable for Bunnings to continue promoting and selling this killer product when there is no need to do so.
“There are many, many alternatives to engineered stone as a benchtop material. The business costs of removing these products are insignificant when we are faced with the prospect of more deaths.”
He also warned cutting can occur during home renovations, a main source of Bunnings’ customer base.
Modelling by Curtin University, released earlier this year, estimated that up to 103,000 tradies will be diagnosed in their lifetime with silicosis as a result of exposure to silica dust at work.
More than 10,000 will develop lung cancer.
The CFMEU has vowed to ban its members from using or importing engineered stone products from July next year if federal and state governments do not act.
Bunnings director of merchandise Jen Tucker said the hardware giant was aware of the concern and it would continue to “monitor and follow advice from the regulatory authorities”.
But Ms Tucker did not endorse the CFMEU’s request.
“Most of the benchtops we sell in store are laminate or timber however, the engineered stone benchtops we provide are pre-cut to size before they arrive at a customer’s site and are supplied and installed by a specialist provider that holds an engineered stone licence and applies strict safety standards to protect production and installation teams in line with the requirements of their licence,” she said.
“The safety of our team and customers is something we take really seriously.
“We know that safety is a concern for the industry more broadly, and something that the federal government is currently reviewing. We are supportive of new legislation as well as the introduction of consistent standards and licensing across states and territories.”
Federal and state ministers are currently considering a Safe Work Australia report about a potential ban on high-concentration crystalline silica slabs.
The previous Coalition government set up a national dust diseases taskforce to investigate ways to limit exposure to silica, as an increasing number of young, otherwise healthy people were diagnosed with silicosis.
The taskforce said engineered stone products should be banned from July next year if significant safety improvements had not been made.