Health monitoring breaches

Public news

An employer has been fined after a random safety inspection found a worker had been provided with the wrong type of respirator for a hazardous substance, and hadn't undergone health monitoring.

Another company was recently fined for failing to comply with a monitoring-related improvement notice.

In the first case, Victorian employer Sandford Furniture Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching section 21 ("Duties of employers to employees") of the State OHS Act, as well as clauses 163 ("Control of [hazardous substances] risk") and 169 ("Health monitoring") of the OHS Regulations.

The Ringwood Magistrates Court heard a WorkSafe Victoria inspector attending Sandford's premises in 2018 observed a worker wearing a half face, cartridge-type respirator while using a paint containing a hazardous isocyanate hardener to spray paint wooden furniture panels.

Workers were required by the Regulations to wear a full face, air-fed type of respirator for this task, the Court heard.

The Sandford employee revealed he had: performed this task about twice week for an extended period of time; never been subjected to a related medical examination, meaning his potential exposure to isocyanates was not being monitored; and received no training on hazardous substances or personal protective equipment.

Fortunately, a medical examination conducted after the inspection found the worker's health had not been affected by the hazardous hardener.

The Court heard that back in 2007, WorkSafe issued a prohibition notice to Sandford in relation to similar spray-painting breaches, but lifted the notice after the employer, through its director, committed to outsourcing all painting tasks involving isocyanates.

For its latest breaches, Sandford was convicted and handed an aggregate fine of $12,500.

In the second case, also in Victoria, employer TTN Stonework Pty Ltd was fined $10,000 without conviction, plus $1,656 in costs, for failing to comply with improvement notices on machine guarding and silica-related health monitoring within the required time.

The Dandenong Magistrates Court heard TTN manufactured reconstituted (or engineered) stone benchtops, which have an extremely high concentration of deadly crystalline silica.

It heard that during a WorkSafe blitz of the stonemasonry industry in early 2019, an inspector issued TTN with four improvement notices relating to:

  • Workers dry-grinding engineered stone without the resulting dust being adequately captured by the extraction system, wearing unsuitable or faulty masks, and probably being exposed to silica dust levels exceeding the occupational exposure threshold;
  • The absence of health monitoring for personnel exposed to respirable crystalline silica;
  • Workplace cleaning methods that were likely to generate airborne silica dust instead of eliminating or reducing the risk of exposure to such dust so far as was reasonably practicable; and
  • Guarding on a bridge saw that did not prevent access to the machine's moving parts, so far as was reasonably practicable.

The Court heard the inspector re-attended the workplace on 17 May 2019 – 12 days after the final date for satisfying the notice requirements – and found TTN had not complied with the second or fourth notices.

The same failures were identified during two follow-up inspections, and the employer was charged with failing to comply with the two notices by the compliance date, it heard.

If members need assistance with chemical hazards and risk assessment, please contact the WR team on wr@mtasant.com.au, or on 8291 2000, or attend one of our WHS training sessions.