$40k fine over acid burns to apprentices


KJ Renfrey Nominees Pty Ltd received its penalty today after earlier pleading guilty to breaching section 19(1) of the Occupational Health Safety and Welfare Act 1986 in that it failed to ensure the safety of employees at work.

SafeWork SA prosecuted after investigating the incident at the company’s Wingfield premises in July 2008. The young men aged 23 and 18 at the time, were employed as first year apprentice diesel mechanics. They were directed to clean a large ore carrying truck with handheld brushes using a highly-corrosive hydrofluoric acid solution.

To do this, they were given only rubber gloves, safety glasses and overalls for personal protection, while one employee wore a spray jacket. After about an hour, both workers felt their skin burning and sought first aid. Further treatment was given at a local medical clinic before they were admitted to the RAH Burns Unit for overnight observation.

The court was told the young men suffered 2% to 4% burns to their total skin area, but have since made a full recovery and returned to work.

SafeWork SA told the court that the workers were put at risk of serious harm through the company’s failure to:

  •  read the warnings on the label of the container or access the Material Data Safety Sheet
  • develop and implement a safe working procedure for using the acidic solution\
  • provide their employees with the necessary safety information, instruction and training
  • inform its own first aid officer as to the correct treatment for exposure and contamination.

Industrial Magistrate Stephen Lieschke said the offence arose because of “Renfrey’s inexplicably complacent and ignorant attitude to exposing its apprentices to a newly introduced hazardous chemical”. He convicted and fined the company $40,000 after a discount of 20% to acknowledge its guilty plea, cooperation, contrition and remedial action. He also ordered a copy of his penalty decision be distributed to all employees within 14 days.

SafeWork SA says the case highlights the critical importance of chemical safety, especially after the death of a worker in Victoria yesterday at a chemical plant.

“Every precaution from safety information and protective equipment to safe work systems needs to be taken where chemicals are involved,” says Acting Executive Director, Marie Boland.

“This need is even greater where inexperienced and vulnerable young workers are involved.”

From SafeWork SA.

Author: SafeWork SA

Tags: User:Teacher;User:Student;Manufacturing;Working with chemicals;Causes of OHS incidents;News items