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WA: companies fined after workers exposed to asbestos

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Date: 
Tuesday, 1 March, 2022 - 12:45
Category: 
Incidents & prosecutions
Location: 
Western Australia

Monadelphous Engineering Associates and Alcoa of Australia were recently fined more than $50,000 after two workers were exposed to asbestos at Alcoa’s Pinjarra alumina refinery in January 2018.

The companies appeared separately in the Mandurah Magistrates Court and pleaded guilty to failing to provide a safe work environment. Monadelphous was fined $25,000 and ordered to pay costs of $6000 while Alcoa was fined $30,000 and ordered to pay costs of $5000.

On the day of the incident, two Monadelphous’ employees were attaching a cable tray to a steel column when one of the men used an angle grinder to remove a coating from the support.

This could have caused particles and fibres from the coating to become airborne.

An occupational hygienist tested a sample of the coating and found it contained a low concentration of white asbestos, a class 1 carcinogen.

No asbestos was found on the employee’s clothing or gear.

A supervisor from Monadelphous had signed an Authority to Proceed with the cable tray job, but a key part of the form had been left blank.

This meant the two employees were unaware the coating on the steel column contained asbestos.

WA’s director mines safety at the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety Andrew Chaplyn said asbestos could pose a significant workplace hazard if it was not effectively managed.

“No amount of asbestos exposure is considered safe and inhaling the fibres can cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma,” Chaplyn said.

“The two companies should have done more to ensure the two employees were working in a safe environment.

“Employers need to make workers aware of asbestos hazards, use appropriate signage to warn of the hazard and refer to a site’s asbestos register during risk assessments.

“If there is any uncertainty whether materials contain asbestos, a competent person should take a sample before work commences.”

Monadelphous was working at the Pinjarra refinery after Alcoa had contracted the company to install a 33kV power cable at the site.