Company fined $1.2m for exposing workers to cobalt dust

Monday, 06 May, 2024

Company fined $1.2m for exposing workers to cobalt dust

Orica Australia Pty Ltd has been fined $1.2 million after SafeWork NSW prosecuted the company for exposing two workers to cobalt dust, a known respiratory sensitising agent that can cause occupational illness. The chronic effects of exposure to cobalt dust include respiratory effects such as asthma, fibrosis and lung damage, and more rarely, cardiac effects and congestion of the liver and kidneys.

The company pleaded guilty to a Category 1 offence, pursuant to section 19 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 in relation to the exposure between 2014 and 2019 at a Kooragang site which caused one worker to develop occupational asthma.

A Category 1 offence occurs when a person has a health and safety duty but engages in conduct where an individual is exposed to a risk of death or serious injury or illness and is reckless as to that risk. In this case, it was due to the exposure to cobalt dust through inhalation and skin irritation and direct contact to the eyes, nose, mouth and skin.

The company’s activities at the industrial chemical manufacturing facility at Kooragang Island included producing cobalt catalyst pellets in the Cobalt Catalyst Manufacturing Shed where the two men worked. The court determined that the cobalt dust and powders were generated during manufacturing processes and were visible, although the amount of dust and powders generated varied and depended on the stage of the above manufacturing process and the state of the cobalt catalyst.

Head of SafeWork NSW Trent Curtin said that the Court found the likelihood of risk of exposure was certain and few steps were taken by Orica to guard against the risk; those steps were poorly implemented and inadequate. “This is a prosecution for a Category 1 offence of the NSW WHS legislation and sends a clear message to industry — if you put people at risk we will prosecute you to the full extent of the laws,” Curtin said.

To learn more about health monitoring for cobalt dust, visit:

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