A company who failed to ensure guarding controls were being used on a press has been fined $40K after a work experience student at a sheet metal workshop had the tip of his finger amputated. The incident highlights the need for work safety programs to ensure adequate machine guarding.
The sheet metal fabrication business and its’ company director appeared before Beenleigh Magistrates Court in September 2020 over the workplace incident.
According to Worksafe Queensland, both the company and the company’s Director pleaded guilty to breaching the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 for failure to meet their work health and safety duties.
The court heard that on 25 September 2018 a 15-year-old work experience student was at the workplace operating an up stroking hydraulic brake-press machine to flatten metal when the tip of his finger went into the opening of the press. He accidentally operated the brake press which resulted in the amputation of the tip of his finger.
An investigation by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland found the machine did not have sufficient safeguards to prevent against this risk of injury.
Workplace Health & Safety Investigators found a gap in the press brake guarding that allowed a workers hand or finger could enter when it was in operation; The regulator said that:
- the closing speed of the brake press didn’t allow sufficient time for a worker to react and remove body parts prior to closure;
- the laser safe system on the brake press had been disengaged. Ultimately this would have meant the brake press would not have operated as it would have detected the finger in the press.
The magistrate found two key issues in relation to the incident that saw the work experience student have his finger amputated.
Firstly there was “a failure to implement a system of plant inspection to ensure it was safe to operate;
Secondly, there was not appropriate induction training and supervision processes for young workers.
Magistrate Louise Shephard accepted the laser safe device had not been deliberately deactivated (having been deactivated as was required after previous use of the machine). Her Honour noted the company director had shown regret over the incident, cooperated with the investigation, and had taken significant steps to ensure the incident didn’t reoccur.
The small business had no history of previous offending against work safety laws in its 40 years of operation.
Magistrate Shephard fined the company $40,000, plus costs of almost $850. No conviction was recorded. Her Honour made an order for a two-year undertaking against the director, with no conviction recorded, as well as costs of almost $850.
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What you can do to prevent this type of incident occurring at your workplace?
If you or your employees are using machinery at your workplace you must ensure that the guarding is:
- installed to meet standards; and
- is working as intended.
You should also ensure that all personnel are trained in the use of plant and equipment including that they know and understand the function and purpose of guards and interlocks and report conditions where guards or interlocks are faulty.
We typically recommend that our clients review all pieces of machinery used at their workplace for guarding deficiencies and check that all staff understand the importance of guarding.
But I’ve got an old piece of equipment that didn’t come with guarding controls. Does that mean it still has to have guards in place?
The simple answer is yes, you have an obligation to ensure that plant and equipment is free from defects that may cause injury. You must be able to demonstrate control measures that remove the risk of amputation or serious bodily injuries to your employees and those who visit your workplace.
But it’s going to cost an arm and a leg to retrofit the equipment with guards. What should I do?
Unfortunately the costs of rectification are seldom considered by a court as a defence after a serious workplace injury. You really need to consider the overall risk that the equipment presents to your workforce, the frequency of use and the outcome if a worker was to lose part of their body in the machine. Typically most workplaces may not be insured against prosecution if they have contravened legislation and committed a workplace health & safety offence. We’d strongly recommend that you should consider purchasing a new piece of equipment or retrofitting guards that comply with known standards.
If you’d like some help on what to do regarding your guarding controls issue, Safetysure work health and safety consultants can help. Call us on 1300 087 888 for a free no-obligation chat on minimising your risks and moving your work health & safety program forward.
Original Work Health & Safety Queensland report on the incident appears here
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