A stone benchtop manufacturer and installation company in Queensland was recently fined $32,500 over an incident in which workers were placed at risk while cutting an engineered stone benchtop.
At the time of the incident, the company was subcontracted to undertake engineered stone bench installation work at an apartment block development project.
On 30 October 2018, two workers installed a Caesarstone-engineered stone bench top, containing crystalline silica, in a kitchen at the apartment block. Later that afternoon, the workers were advised that the benchtop did not fit against the wall.
One of the workers sought advice from his supervisor who then instructed that the stone benchtop be cut onsite using the unguarded angle grinder and that the blade of the angle grinder be kept wet.
The workers began cutting the benchtop with the unguarded grinder with one worker wearing a mask with a P2 filter and the other holding a rag over his face. A plastic spray bottle was used to squirt the water.
Other workers at the site heard the grinding and entered the unit. Those workers could see, smell, and taste the dust. The defendant’s workers stopped the work immediately.
While the company had a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) in place which prohibited the cutting of engineered stone at the workplace, it failed to comply with the duty it owed to its workers by not instructing its workers to comply with that SWMS and not to undertake engineered stone cutting offsite.
The company also failed in its duty to ensure the health and safety of other persons were not put at risk by the work it carried out as part of the conduct of its business.
In sentencing, Brisbane Magistrates Court Magistrate Michael Quinn accepted that while the defendant’s acts were not reflective of the most egregious example of this kind of offending, that no breach of the Act could be characterised as minor or trivial.
His Honour considered that the need to protect workers in the workplace and the community at large was paramount, and he said the court was required to “impose a proper penalty in all of the circumstances to ensure the continued safety of the workplace, in particular, workplaces involving the use of crystalline silica”.
In mitigation, His Honour took into account the defendant’s timely plea of guilty together with its cooperation in the investigation, its lack of previous convictions and its otherwise proactive approach towards health and safety within the workplace.
His Honour also accepted that the defendant had taken significant steps at a cost to ensure compliance with its health and safety obligations.