On 20 April 2021, Ezystone Benchtops Pty Ltd was sentenced in the Redcliffe Magistrates Court for failing to ensure the health and safety of its workers contrary to sections 19(1) and 32 Work Health and Safety Act 2011. The offending occurred between 1 January 2012 and 1 November 2018. The defendant failed to appear and was sentence ex parte. Acting Magistrate Paul Byrne imposed a fine of $240,000. A conviction was recorded.
Ezystone Benchtops Pty Ltd manufactured and supplied engineered stone benchtops for residential and commercial premises. Stonemasons employed by the business initially cut the engineered stone “dry” with handheld grinders and without dust suppression. The defendant later implemented a booth for the workers to undertake “dry” cutting, which frequently filled up with dust from the cut stone that could be tasted and smelled through respirators.
Although the workers were given disposable respirator masks, they were not always available and were worn repeatedly before being replaced. Additionally, their workers were not provided with information on wearing masks appropriately or fit testing to ensure the masks effectively prevented inhalation of dust and contaminants. The defendant purchased reusable respirators which the workers used for some time, but they returned to using disposable masks when no replacement filters were purchased.
Four employees were diagnosed with silicosis. In September 2013, inspectors from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) attended the workplace and informed the defendant of its obligations in relation to respirable crystalline silica (‘RCS’). They advised the obligations included the need to train and instruct workers, conduct a risk assessment, implement controls to reduce exposure, ensure the masks were fitted to the workers and conduct health surveillance for workers. In October 2018, WHSQ discovered there was no dust suppression for electric grinders, no fit testing for disposable respirators, and worker health was not monitored.
In response to subsequent improvement notices relating to these issues, the defendant indicated it “did not have or did not require” the documents or procedures required for compliance. The defendant possessed documents from the suppliers of the engineered stone indicating the presence of crystalline silica and its risk to workers.
In sentencing, Acting Magistrate Byrne noted the need for specific and general deterrence, denunciation and that there was a need to protect the community.
His Honour indicated the defendant company was reckless to the risk posed by the silica dust. His Honour observed that numerous workers were exposed to the risk and now suffered irreversible and dire medical ailments.
His Honour accepted that the decision in Bennett Developments (FNQ) Pty Ltd v Steward  QDC 235 offered some support for the fine range submitted by the prosecution.
His Honour considered that capacity to pay may have limited application as the defendant would shortly cease to exist and the penalty imposed may not be payable in liquidation. His Honour referred to the prosecution’s submission that it was in the public interest to impose a substantial fine to reflect the seriousness of the offending and demonstrate to the community that similar companies will be held accountable for failing to ensure the health and safety of their workers.
His Honour noted the defendant did not enter a plea and therefore did not have the benefit of a guilty plea in mitigation. He commented the defendant had a “reckless, ignorant, cavalier approach” to workers’ safety. His Honour imposed a fine of $240,000.
His Honour order that the conviction be recorded, noting the aggravating circumstances of offending.
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Section 19(1) and 32 Work Health and Safety Act 2011