Convicted UK Firm Paying $32K in Silica Exposure Case

A firm that specialized in shot-blasting metal components gave some workers sand for their work but did not provide sufficient PPE to protect them from the dust, and the company now has pleaded guilty to violating the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

A British firm has pleaded guilty to violating the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 in a case involving exposure of four employees to respirable crystalline silica during shot-blasting. Elite 04 Ltd, which specializes in shot-blasting metal components, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive after an HSE inspector visited the company's plant in October 2010 and realized sand was being used for the shot-blasting work.

During the trial on July 19, 2012, the court was told it is illegal to use most common forms of sand for shot blasting because the resulting fine dust particles can cause silicosis, a potentially fatal lung disease. HSE said the blasting helmets worn by operatives during the work were not sufficient to prevent them from inhaling the dust particles, and helpers were given only disposable dust masks to wear. When the sand was swept up afterward, employees did not wear masks at all, the agency reported.

HSE said its investigation showed Elite 04 had been using sacks of sand bought from a building supply company for as much as three years. The company had previously hired a subcontractor to do the blasting and did not carry out a risk assessment when it decided to take over the work itself.

Elite 04 Ltd pleaded guilty and was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £8,868 in prosecution costs; the total is equivalent to about $36,000 in U.S. dollars.

"The four workers who were exposed to the fine dust particles are unlikely to find out for a number of years whether the level of their exposure has had a long-term impact on their health," said HSE Inspector Matt Lea. "This case should act to a warning to companies whose employees work in similar environments to make sure they operate within the law and make the health and safety of workers their top priority."

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