Masks are part of everyone’s everyday life now, but they have long been part of PPE for many jobs.  In a recent decision a fumigation business has been fined $75k and has had to pay an additional $65K in costs due to mask PPE failures.

 Case Recap

 The business engaged a trainee in 2017 who was working in fumigation of shipping containers, spending several hours per day inside fumigation exclusion zones. 

 The business was charged with failure to train the trainee properly, failure to inform him how to appropriately use PPE including a mask, failure to communicate that the trainee needed to be clean shaven for the respirator mask to work properly and for failure to appropriately respond to the trainees mounting symptoms.

 After 5 months of employment the trainee reported to multiple management personnel that he was experiencing numbness in his feet and nothing was done.

 After 7 months of employment the trainee was hospitalised for loss of vision, and the business did not arrange for a clearance blood test.

 The Judge heard that following further cascading symptoms including central nervous system toxicity, peripheral neuropathy and other issues before being diagnosed with methyl bromide poisoning connected to his work, and that the level of methyl bromide was more than three times the upper limit, exposing the worker to potential long term injury and death.

 In handing down his decision Judge Scotting noted that the business “accepted by its plea of guilty that it failed to enforce the wearing of masks, failed to provide regular monitoring of workers’ health and failed to adequately train [the worker]. In the circumstances, these steps were inexpensive and easy to implement,” and that the trainee was  “vulnerable because he was an inexperienced worker with inadequate training who was regularly exposed to a particularly hazardous substance”.

 Learnings for all businesses

This case is yet another reminder to all business operators that it is imperative to provide the appropriate PPE and ensure it is used appropriately.

 “It is simply not enough to have the PPE.  The business must identify the correct PPE, ensure that staff have access to the PPE, ensure that staff have training on how to use the PPE, ensure that the staff actually use the PPE, and critically, ensure that the staff are using the PPE properly” explains ACAPMAs Elisha Radwanowski.

 “It is never good enough when it comes to safety for the business to just ‘tell’ staff what needs to be done.  The business must ‘tell, show, check, check and check’, and if they don’t they are putting their staff, customers, community and reputation at risk and are breaching the law” concluded Elisha.

 Here to Help

 Safety Highlights are things to consider, implement and watch out for in your business.  They are provided as general information for you to consider and do not constitute advice.  You should seek further advice on your situation by contacting your legal advisor.  ACAPMA members can access resources and receive advice, guidance and support from the ACAPMA employment professionals via employment@acapma.com.au  , it is free for members.  ACAPMA Membership delivers this and more benefits, see; https://acapma.com.au/membership/   for more information.

Elisha Radwanowski BCom(HRM&IR)
ACAPMA

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