Engineered stone bench top company fined over crystalline silica safety risks

Engineered stone bench top company fined over crystalline silica safety risks

A Victorian engineered stone company has been fined for exposing employees’ health and safety to risk arising from exposure to crystalline silica.

The company, Miter Square, manufactured and installed engineered stone benchtops from its Knoxfield factory. On 6 October 2020, a WorkSafe Victoria inspector attended the site as part of the organisation’s project on crystalline silica exposure in the stonemason industry.

Once inside the workplace, the inspector observed a worker using a handheld power tool to polish a stone slab, which was not fitted with an integrated water delivery system or an on-tool extraction system connected to a Dust Class H Vacuum, nor was any local exhaust ventilation being used, as required by regulation 319C(2)(a) of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017.

The inspector also noted, inside the workplace, a significant amount of dust on the floor and on surfaces; a high-pressure hose and brooms with bristles, which were used to clean up dust at the workplace; a large number of drill/router bits, which were used for dry cutting tap holes in engineered stone; and buckets of water and wet rags on top of pieces of stone, in purported compliance with the requirement to perform ‘wet cutting’ of the reconstructed stone.

The next day, two inspectors and a senior occupational hygienist attended the site again and observed a significant amount of dust in the workplace. The company’s director informed them that the employees relied on respiratory PPE to control the risk of exposure.

None of the respirators at the site complied with all of the required safety standards. One had no particulate filter, and another had a particulate filter but not the appropriate type for compliance.

The director, while inspecting the respiratory PPE with the inspectors, explained that filter cartridges were changed every two to three months. There were no new cartridges at the workplace, and WorkSafe advised that, at a minimum, the cartridges needed to be changed every two to four weeks.

The investigation showed that a stone sample taken from the site had a crystalline silica content of 82%. The high levels of crystalline silica and the lack of appropriate control for the risk of health and safety arising from exposure to it led to the employer being charged.

The offender pleaded guilty and was sentenced without conviction to pay a fine of $7,000 and to pay the prosecution’s costs of $3,756.

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