Stone-benchtop installer fined


by Cam Lucadou-Wells

An owner of a Dandenong engineered-stone benchtop factory has been fined for not complying with a WorkCover safety improvement notice.

Thai Dung Nguyen, 54, who is a partner in DTH Unik Stone, pleaded guilty at Dandenong Magistrates’ Court on 18 February to the single charge.

Nguyen was ordered by WorkSafe inspectors to cease the uncontrolled ‘dry cutting’ of engineered stone benchtops in September 2021, a prosecutor for the Victorian Worksafe Authority told the court.

Uncontrolled dry cutting was banned at the time due to the deadly risks to workers exposed to fine dust particles containing crystalline silica, the prosecutor said.

Respirable crystalline silica (RCS) can travel deep into the lungs when inhaled and develop into diseases such as silicosis, which is incurable and potentially fatal.

A worker told a WorkSafe inspector that the only controls used by installers were respirators, the prosecutor said.

A WorkSafe improvement notice was issued ordering the factory to use ‘wet’ cutting, grinding and polishing or alternatively to use on-tool dust extraction.

The enterprise was ordered to comply within five weeks.

Despite several follow-up inspections, Nguyen didn’t install the required dust-extracting vacuums on power tools until six months later.

Since the factory’s inception in 2018, Nguyen’s two sons have been employed there as benchtop installers, the court heard.

Ninety per cent of its business was engineered stone, and 10 per cent were non-hazardous natural stone products.

Defence lawyer Thomas Bell said the factory was using a non-compliant dust extraction method up to the time of complying with the notice.

Nguyen – who had no prior criminal history – wasn’t charged with running an unsafe workplace or putting his employees’ safety at risk, Mr Bell said.

But he conceded that engineered-stone manufacturing was inherently risky with no safe exposure level to crystalline silica dust.

Last year, most state jurisdictions agreed to ban the use, supply and manufacture of engineered stone benchtops due to the deadly risks.

The ban will apply in Victoria from 1 July.

A financially struggling Nguyen was set to lose the bulk of his work due to the ban, Mr Bell told the court.

Magistrate Fran Medina took into account Nguyen’s early guilty plea.

But his protracted non-compliance with the notice despite several WorkSafe follow-up inspections was an aggravating feature – especially when it involved “such a significant risk”.

Although engineered stone was soon to be banned, Ms Medina said the fine had to deter Nguyen and others in the industry from failing to comply with WorkSafe notices.

Nguyen was fined $2000 without conviction. He was ordered to pay Victorian Workplace Authority’s costs of $3466.50.