Not so dusty - Crystalline Silica and your kitchen worktops

Could your quartz worktops have cost someone their health, or even their life?

This question may sound over-dramatic, but it is a genuine issue in our industry. Concerns over airborne dust particles from stone worktop manufacture – specifically with engineered stone or “quartz” have become ever louder since we first reported on them back in 2020.

Surrey granite and marble kitchen worktops
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In the last four years, the issue has become more pressing. In particular, 2023 saw a string of high profile court cases and legislative moves which shone a spotlight on the dangers of quartz worktop fabrication. Back in February the owner of Cosentino – parent company of the Silestone quartz brand – was in court and facing a sentence for incorrect safety information labelling related to the silica content of Silestone. Then, later in the year, both the State of California and the whole of Australia legislated to ban quartz fabrication altogether after a rash of health issues involving stone masons.

These changes do not pass unnoticed in the UK. Kitchen company Herringbone is no longer fitting quartz worktops, and an All Party Parliamentary Group report has been published into the dangers of quartz fabrication.

All of this seems quite sudden. Why has there been this rise of health problems and of legislation and court cases linked to quartz kitchen worktops?

The simple answer is because the product is very new. Affordable Granite was founded in 2003. When I joined in 2009 I think we had only made one set of quartz worktops. It wasn’t until 2016 or 17 that our volume of quartz was starting to rival natural granite, and that growth continued until today, when we cut far more quartz than natural stone.

That kind of rapid growth was replicated all over the world – in places with high safety standards and places with virtually none. And the fact was that quartz (especially in its early days) contained up to 93% silica ready to become dust. That figure is vastly higher than any natural granite – even the higher silica types. Early quartz products effectively concentrated the dangers that are there in all kinds of stone work.  So the legislation that has been promoted over the last few years is a response to a rapid rise in respiratory illness and even fatalities that the silica has caused.

Bear in mind that this isn’t unique to our industry. Builders using angle grinders with brick, tile or concrete, for instance, are also exposed to respirable crystalline silica. But it has been the concentration of silica and the success of the product that has made quartz worktops a particular threat.

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Quartz worktops have grown rapidly in popularity because they are good! The trend to light-coloured kitchen worktops has made the non-porous qualities of quartz a big advantage. And there is no danger whatsoever from them once they are installed – all the issues have to do with cutting and polishing.

So what is the solution? Do we need legislation to ban quartz in the UK? I don’t think so. Do we need strong legislation to secure good standards in the workplace when cutting these materials? Yes, we do. But first of all, and as a priority to show that our industry understands the issue and cares about its workforce, we need reputable quartz worktop fabricators to set a high standard themselves. That is why we formed the Worktop Fabricators Federation – setting the standards for health and safety in the stone worktop industry.

Four years later and it feels as if the WFF has come of age. An increasing number of fabricators are now members, and we have picked up some great sponsors in the shape of the more health-conscious quartz and ceramic manufacturers (like Caesarstone, Technistone and Neolith) and tooling companies (like Brachot, LPE and Stonegate). We believe that the next year or two will be critical in demonstrating that, unlike the unregulated workshops in countries  where illegal immigrants are in no position to complain, we can set a really high standard for ourselves.

One welcome move toward this has been on the part of quartz manufacturer Technistone, who have begun to insist that UK fabricators wishing to use their material should sign up to the WFF and its standards. Personally, I wish that all quartz manufacturers were that supportive and socially minded.

Busy on the WFF stand at the KBB show 2024. Worktop fabricators federation.
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Other important developments have included the creation of engineered stones with far lower levels of crystalline silica. Most of the big players are trying to do this, with some real successes. The Ecotone range from QuartzForms has under 5% – to the best of my knowledge, the lowest in the industry at present.

Legislators don’t always seem too impressed by lower-silica quartz. I suspect that their concern is that the new materials will just encourage fabricators to relax standards. Certainly, alongside better materials, regular and real-time air testing is critical. WFF members are expected to text regularly and the Federation has has invested in a TROLEX testing machine to allow for real-time testing during a week of normal processes in a member workshop.

Not so dusty - What you, the customer, can do

You would love quartz worktops in your home, but you are now worried about the human cost

The first thing is that you mustn’t worry for your own sake. The illnesses that come from exposure to silica only arise after long periods of high exposure. Even if there is SOME dust in your home from installation, it will not harm you. And the way we all work these days, it is EXTREMELY unusual to make much dust or need to do any cutting indoors on a customer’s site. So no issues there.

Secondly, regarding the fabrication risks, I think there is a way ahead. You can start by looking for a fabricator that is a member of the WFF. Then you can ask for one of the newer materials with a lower level of crystalline silica anyway. You may pay a little more for low silica quartz, but with it will come the peace of mind that you have done all you can to minimise risks to the people you are employing to create your dream kitchen.

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Not so dusty – At the end of the day, helping you achieve that dream kitchen is our goal – with everyone kept safe and healthy in the process!

We are Affordable Granite, the leading installer of granite and quartz worktops in Surrey, Sussex and across the South East. If you are concerned about any aspect of health and safety in stone worktop manufacture, we understand and are happy to talk honestly about the issues.  We believe that we are among the very best when it comes to the health and welfare of our staff. Please do not hesitate to contact our sales team on 01293 863992 or by email on Or you can use our quotation or contact forms.