WA company fined $30K after workers suffer lead poisoning

Thursday, 07 September, 2023

WA company fined $30K after workers suffer lead poisoning

Fire assay company Jinning Pty Ltd has been fined $30,000 (and ordered to pay $5647 in costs) after four workers recorded high levels of lead in their blood and one was hospitalised. The company pleaded guilty under the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 to two charges of failing to ensure that biological monitoring was conducted on an employee in a lead-risk job, along with two charges of failing to ensure that counselling and health surveillance were provided to workers in a lead-risk job. The company was fined $17,000 on the two biological monitoring charges and $13,000 on the two health surveillance charges.

The company has two locations — West Kalgoorlie and Maddington — at which fire assay work is conducted, including determining the precious metal content of core samples using lead flux. The charges relate to the West Kalgoorlie premises.

In April 2022, a worker at Jinning became ill and his blood lead levels were measured at 97.5 micrograms per decilitre; the Regulations require that a worker must be removed from a lead-risk job if their lead level is at or above 30 micrograms per decilitre. Workers in lead-risk jobs must be provided with monitoring of their lead levels to ensure they stay at or below the 30 micrograms limit.

The worker with the highest lead level was admitted to hospital where he underwent treatment (chelation therapy) to reduce his lead levels and, as a result, WorkSafe conducted an investigation at the workplace. After the workers’ high lead levels were discovered, they were all removed from lead-risk roles.

WorkSafe Deputy Commissioner Sally North said the case was the first time WorkSafe has prosecuted a company for failing in its duties with regard to providing health surveillance for workers with lead exposure. North said employers must provide health surveillance to workers in lead-risk jobs to ensure their health is not adversely affected, including testing blood samples to confirm that their absorbed dose of lead is below the specified removal level.

“Jinning did not provide these four workers at their Kalgoorlie location with the required biological monitoring despite the fact that medical practices specialising in occupational health were available in Kalgoorlie that could have provided the required counselling and health surveillance. Lead poisoning can lead to serious complications such as high blood pressure and brain, kidney and reproductive health issues,” North said.

Following the investigation, Jinning has implemented new procedures to ensure blood tests are routinely carried out at both its sites, and has improved its workplace practices to reduce workers’ exposure to harmful levels of lead.

“This case should serve as a warning to other workplaces involved in fire assay or any other lead-related activity that their workers’ lead levels must be carefully monitored and action taken if they approach removal level — otherwise the employer risks prosecution,” North said.

Image credit: iStock.com/DarrenTownsend

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