One of four fire assay workers treated for lead poisoning had absorbed more than three times the recommended level of the heavy metal, it has been revealed.
In what WA authorities said was a state first, Jinning Pty was fined $30,000 after failing to ensure appropriate monitoring and health checks for employees in a lead-risk job.
The company, which uses a lead flux to determine the precious metal content of samples, was also ordered to pay more than $5600 in costs.
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An investigation was sparked when a worker at an assay laboratory became ill and his blood lead levels were measured at 97.5 micrograms per deciliter.
According to regulations, workers must be removed from the job if their levels hit 30 micrograms per decilitre.
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The worker was admitted to hospital after falling sick and had to undergo chelation therapy to reduce the amount of lead in his system.
Jinning pleaded guilty to all four charges relating to its operations in West Kalgoorlie.
“This is the first time WorkSafe has taken prosecution action against an employer over failing to provide health surveillance for a worker in a lead-risk job,” WorkSafe deputy commissioner Sally North said.
“Lead poisoning can lead to serious complications such as high blood pressure and brain, kidney and reproductive health issues.
“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.”
‘A warning to others’
North said the company failed to do so despite medical practices that provide the required health surveillance available nearby.
“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,” she said.
“All workers were removed from lead-risk roles and Jinning has introduced new procedures to ensure blood tests are carried out routinely and reduce workers’ exposure to lead.
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