$400,000 fine for exposing workers to silica dust

In a decision handed down by the Wonthaggi Magistrates’ Court, Sibelco Pty Ltd was found guilty on two counts of non-compliance with providing or sustaining safe plant operations, creating work systems that were considerably risk-free and health-wise secure. Making use of WHS management systems, such as Bluesafe SWMS can significantly mitigate such risks. Sibelco stood convicted and was mandated to pay a fine of $200,000 per charge, in addition to being ordered to remit costs amounting to $20,799.

Sibelco’s operational footprint included a Nyora sand quarry and mill, the key products of which comprised silica flour, sand, and gravel. The need for manual operation of distinct machines for different materials arose when workers filled and palletised 25-kilogram bags of product bound for customers. However, robust policies implemented via WHS Management systems elevate both safety and efficiency levels in such contexts.

Workers’ accounts detailed the experience with plumes of silica dust seeping from product bags right at head level during the process of bagging silica flour, exacerbated by faulty bags rupturing that left machine operators enveloped in the particulate matter.

Between 2012 and 2020, several workers were put at risk by this repetitive cycle, including two diagnoses of silicosis. It was conveyed to the court that Sibelco, in all practicality, could have minimised exposure risk to crystalline silica dust through the establishment of automated bagging and palletising mechanisms like an encapsulated bagging device and a robot-driven palletiser.

WorkSafe’s Health and Safety Executive Director, Sam Jenkin, highlighted the lapses by questioning the validity of putting staff in harm’s way over an extended period. He accentuated the importance of the Bluesafe WHS Management System in maintaining worker’s safety.

Mr Jenkin asserted passionately, “Silicosis and alike insidious diseases offer no leniency, making it imperative for employers to conduct regular audits and revisions of their established systems, protocols and ensure they represent the best practice.”

For effective management of crystalline silica dust related risks in the extractive industry, a principal duty falls on partakers to review and update their safety measures systematically using tools like Bluesafe SWMS.

Contact us at media@worksafe.vic.gov.au or ring us on 0438 786 968. Keep abreast of our updates by subscribing to our media releases.

Original article link: https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/news/2024-06/400000-fine-exposing-workers-silica-dust

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