Vic: Manufactured stone bench company fined after not complying with Improvement Notices for months

TTN Stonework Pty Ltd is a company located in Keysborough which specialises in custom cut stonework and manufactures reconstituted stone benchtops such as Caesar Stone. These contain high levels of crystalline silica.

On 1 March 2019, as part of WorkSafe's project on crystalline silica exposure in the stonemason industry, a WorkSafe inspector attended the workplace to identify potential sources of exposure to crystalline silica and to assess the control measures in place to minimise the risk of exposure.

As a result, the inspector issued four improvement notices on the following issues:

  1. The sourcing and trimming if edges with a dry grinding process on engineered stone: the dust was not adequately captured by the extraction system as the inspector saw it on the walls and floor of the unit. The employees were wearing disposable P2 masks where one had the filter removed. The inspector formed the belief that the exposure to crystalline silica was likely to exceed the eight hour occupational exposure standard of 0.1 mg/m3, and that persons grinding the stone were at risk of severe adverse health effects as a consequence;
  2. Health monitoring for respirable crystalline silica: the employer was not providing this to employees at the workplace, as required by Regulation 169 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017;
  3. Observed visible layers of dust on floors and vertical and horizontal surfaces throughout the workplace: the inspector believed that the cleaning methods used could result in the generation of airborne silica dust, and therefore, did not eliminate or reduce the risk of exposure to crystalline silica dust so far as was reasonably practicable as required by regulation 163 of the regulations; and
  4. A CNC Bridge Saw with guarding that did not, so far as is reasonably practicable, prevent access to the saw and its moving parts whilst in operation.

All four improvement notices were issued with a compliance date of 5 May 2019.

When the inspector re-attended the workplace on 17 May 2019, he observed that only IN1 and IN3 had been complied with, not IN2 and IN4. The inspector re-attended the workplace on 7 June 2019, 10 July 2019: neither of the two outstanding Improvement Notices had been complied with. The inspector re-attended the workplace on 13 September 2019 and observed that TTN had complied with IN2 in that it had ensured employees had undertaken health monitoring, and had complied with IN4 in that an interlock guard had been fitted to the CNC Saw. 

WorkSafe subsequently charged TTN with failing to comply with IN2 and IN4 by the compliance date. The company pleaded guilty and was without conviction fined $10,000, plus ordered to pay WorkSafe’s costs of $1,655.83.

This is yet another example where an employer continued to put workers at risk of disease and injury despite repeated visits by WorkSafe - and another example of the regulator giving employers not just one chance, but several before taking enforcement action and prosecuting. If Victoria's regulator does not want to continue to be seen by workers as a 'toothless tiger', it needs to prosecute employers who clearly breach their duties under the law and put workers' lives at risk. 

To check for any Victorian prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage. 

NSW: Company fined after subcontractor trapped, crushed and killed in tank

A NSW company, DIC Australia Pty Ltd, has been handed a pre-discount WHS fine of $600,000, plus $45,000 in costs, after its flawed electrical isolation system caused the death of a subcontractor in a tank, and serious injuries to two workers who attempted to save him.

In December 2017, a plant cleaning subcontractor was working inside the ink holding tank at DIC's Auburn premises when its agitator blade activated, crushing his legs and trapping him against the tank's wall. A fitter from Buddco Pty Ltd, the contractor responsible for installing and maintaining the site's plant and equipment, entered the tank to help the trapped worker, but the blade turned again and trapped the fitter's left leg.

A DIC production operator then tried to enter the tank but the moving blade crushed his right leg and foot and nearly dragged him into the tank, before he pulled himself to safety. Other workers realised the tank's power was still on and called a site electrician to isolate the plant.

Specialist paramedics, fire and rescue personnel and police attended the site to free the trapped workers but cleaning subcontractor suffered a cardiac arrest and died at the scene, about two hours after entering the tank.

NSW District Court Judge David Russell found the company could have prevented the incident by installing engineering controls allowing workers required to enter the tank to isolate it themselves, instead of having to arrange this with an electrician.

DIC pleaded guilty to breaching two sections of the WHS Act, in exposing the three workers to the risk of death or serious injury. Judge Russell found DIC's culpability was "in the high range" and an appropriate fine was $600,000, before reducing this by 25 per cent to $450,000 for DIC's guilty plea.

Buddco, which arranged for and supervised all maintenance work at the premises and engaged the deceased worker, pleaded not guilty to WHS charges, and will face trial later this year. The judge said that while the Court had not heard any evidence from Buddco to date, he accepted the submission that evidence relating to the contractor showed its actions "appear to be a significant factor in [the] creation of the risk". Source: OHS Alert

UK: Transport operator fined £1.5m after worker electrocuted

Tyne & Wear Metro operator Nexus has been fined £1.5m (AUD$2.7m) after a maintenance worker was electrocuted. Nexus pleaded guilty at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Crown Court following the death of maintenance worker John Bell at the company’s South Gosforth depot on 6 July 2014. The court heard the 43-year-old died while working at height carrying out maintenance work on high voltage overhead cables. He was electrocuted after contacting a wire he believed to be isolated from the power supply but, due to the incorrect installation of equipment, was still live.

In its investigation, industry regulator the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) found safety critical procedures were ignored and some of the breaches continued for a substantial period after the man’s death. These included: allowing work to be carried out without the appropriate instructions for staff to prevent injury; work being undertaken without the required safety critical permits; and serious inadequacies in policy documents covering ‘live line working’, which failed to include a requirement for staff to test all electrical wires before carrying out work. ORR found lessons were not learned over a number of years and problems persisted despite the worker's death, putting other workers at risk for a ‘substantial period’.

ORR chief inspector Ian Prosser said: “Nexus’ working practices were poor and continued so for a long time. This meant Nexus did not have the right measures in place to assess whether the Metro was being maintained safely.” He added: “This sadly contributed to the events which caused the death of Mr Bell. Our thoughts remain with the family and friends of Mr Bell and I hope this result brings them some peace.” Mr Bell had previously been injured in an incident when working on overhead line equipment in February 2002. Nexus was subsequently prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive for a criminal safety offence and fined £16,000 (AUD$27,800). In that incident, Mr Bell suffered serious head and chest injuries and was off work for more than a year. 
Read more: ORR news release. Construction Enquirer. Source: Risks 994

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