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Engineered stone benchtop manufacturer fined after three workers contract silicosis
A Cambridge manufacturer of engineered stone benchtops has been convicted and fined after three workers contracted silicosis as a result of being exposed to excessive levels of respirable crystalline silica.
On 1 November 2018, WorkSafe Tasmania was notified of concerns about unsafe work practices at the workshop of Heritage Stone Pty Ltd. The information provided indicated that workers may have contracted silicosis due to exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust. This dust is generated by crushing, cutting, drilling, grinding, sawing or polishing of natural stone or man-made products that contain silica, including engineered stone.
A WorkSafe Tasmania investigation found that Heritage Stone Pty Ltd was dry cutting and shaping engineered stone, and:
- there was generally poor workplace awareness of the risk the silica dust posed, despite safety data sheets and warning labels identifying the hazard
- the business had not carried out any air monitoring to determine the levels of silica dust that workers were exposed to, nor had they provided their workers with health monitoring to identify whether their health was being affected by this dangerous substance
- workers were largely not provided with the right type of respiratory protection
- cleaning floors and clothing resulted in respirable crystalline silica becoming airborne again, and there was no signage warning workers or visitors that there was a risk of breathing in silica dust
- the business had not installed isolation screens or booths, which would have prevented the spread of the silica dust throughout the workshop, including the meal room.
Heritage Stone Pty Ltd was charged with one offence under Section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 of failing to comply with a health and safety duty that exposes a worker to the risk of death or serious injury or illness.
The company pleaded guilty to this charge. It was convicted and fined $500,000 on 23 February 2022.
To ensure safety when working with materials and tasks that could generate respirable crystalline silica, see:
- our silica safety guidance
- the code of practice for Managing the risks of respirable crystalline silica from engineered stone in the workplace.