On 22 June 2023, a stone benchtop manufacturer and installation company was sentenced in the Brisbane Magistrates Court for two offences under section 33 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘the Act’), having failed to comply with its primary health and safety duties pursuant to section 19(1) and (2) of the Act.

The defendant engaged workers in its business to install engineered stone bench tops. At the time of the incident, the defendant was subcontracted to undertake engineered stone bench installation work at an apartment block development project.

On 30 October 2018, two workers of the defendant 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 thereafter instructed that the stone benchtop be cut onsite using the unguarded angle grinder and that the blade of the angle grinder be kept wet.

After that direction, 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 defendant 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 defendant also failed in its duty to ensure the health and safety of other persons was not put at risk from the work it carried out as part of the conduct of its business.

In sentencing, Magistrate Michael Quinn indicated that he understood the facts of the offending conduct. His Honour accepted that whilst 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 had regard to the purpose of the Act and considered that the need to protect workers in the workplace and the community at large, was paramount. His Honour outlined 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 in 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. In light of these considerations, His Honour gave greater consideration to that of general deterrence than specific deterrence.

Having regard to all these matters, His Honour fined the defendant $32,500 for both offences and awarded costs. His Honour exercised his discretion and did not record a conviction against the defendant.

OWHSP contact: enquiries@owhsp.qld.gov.au

Court Report

General
Industry
Construction
Date of offence
Injury
Nil
Court
Brisbane Magistrates Court
Magistrate or judge
Magistrate Michael Quinn
Decision date
Company
Legislation
Plea
Guilty
Penalty
$32,500.00
Maximum fine available
$500,000.00
Professional and legal costs
$1,500.00
Court costs
$97.95
In default period
N/A
Time to pay
Two months (in default referred to SPER)
Conviction recorded
No