$400,000 Fine For Exposing Workers To Silica Dust

Sibelco Pty Ltd was sentenced in the Wonthaggi Magistrates’ Court today after pleading guilty to two charges of failing to provide or maintain plant or systems of work that were safe and without risks to health.

The company was convicted and fined $200,000 for each charge and also ordered to pay $20,799 in costs.

The court heard that Sibelco operated a Nyora sand quarry and mill that produced silica-based products, including silica flour, sand and gravel.

Workers were required to manually operate a machine, which was different for each material, to fill and palletise 25-kilogram bags of product for transportation to customers.

During the process of bagging silica flour, workers described plumes of silica dust escaping from the bags at head height and, on occasion, faulty bags bursting and leaving the machine operator covered in material.

A number of workers were placed at risk by this process between 2012 and 2020, including two who have since been diagnosed with silicosis.

The court heard it was reasonably practicable for Sibelco to reduce the risk of exposure to crystalline silica dust by having automated bagging and palletising systems in place, including an automated and enclosed bagging machine and the use of a robotic palletiser.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Sam Jenkin said there was no excuse for putting workers at harm over a prolonged period.

“The risks associated with crystalline silica were well known and the company was also aware of the available measures to better protect their workers,” Mr Jenkin said.

“Insidious diseases like silicosis do not discriminate so it is critical that employers continuously review and update their systems and processes to ensure they are best practice.”

To manage the risks associated with crystalline silica dust in the extractives industry, duty holders should:

  • Consult with workers, including any health and safety representatives, to identify hazards and determine how to control risks.
  • Ensure any high risk crystalline silica work (HRCSW) is identified, recorded and only performed in accordance with a hazard control statement that is up to date and reviewed when necessary.
  • Provide information, instruction and training to workers undertaking HRCSW on the associated health risks and the proper use of required control measures, such as appropriate respiratory protective equipment.
  • Provide and maintain adequate airborne dust suppression and/or dust extraction ventilation systems.
  • Enclose dust-generating sections of plant and/or areas where people are working within purpose built enclosures.
  • Ensure work areas are cleaned regularly to prevent the build-up of dust on plant, equipment, working surfaces or the floor.
  • Conduct atmospheric monitoring to ensure the concentration of respirable crystalline silica does not exceed the workplace exposure standard and provide test results to any at risk worker as soon as reasonably practicable.
  • Ensure the health of workers who may be impacted by exposure to crystalline silica is monitored by a registered medical practitioner.
  • Ensure the silica content of the quarried material is known, and that this information is passed on to customers.

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