Company fined $40,000 over amputation of worker’s fingers

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A company operating from Bibra Lake has been fined $40,000 (plus $12,000 costs) over an incident in which an employee had two fingers amputated.

Harvest Freshcuts Pty Ltd was found guilty of failing to provide and maintain a safe workplace and, by that failure, causing the employee serious harm, and was fined in the Perth Magistrates Court last week.

The company operated a business that produced ready-made salads for supply to supermarkets.

The workplace contained a number of machines to cut and slice the produce, one of which was a belt slicer.  Vegetables were placed on the slicer’s conveyer belt and fed into a cutting chamber containing three rotating blades.

The cutting chamber was covered by a guard that could be opened, exposing the blades.  However, opening the guard would engage an interlock device that would cut power to the blades.

The blades could also be stopped by switching off and/or unplugging the machine or by pressing an emergency stop button.

In June 2009, an employee was operating the machine and decided to clear some vegetable matter from the cutting chamber.  He hit the emergency stop button and put his hand into the chamber.

He was unaware that the emergency stop button and interlock were not functioning due to a fault in the electrical relay. As a result, the blades were still spinning when he put his hand in.

Two of his fingers were amputated to the middle knuckle.

After this incident, the employer fitted the slicer with electrical relays that were less likely to fail, and if they did fail, would fail to a safe state and cut off power to the blades.  The guard was additionally fitted with a time-delay interlock which would prevent the guard being opened while the blades were spinning.

Employees were also subsequently instructed to isolate power to the machine by switching it off and unplugging it at the wall before opening the guard.

WorkSafe Acting Executive Director Ian Munns said today the case illustrated how important it was to have lock-out and tagging procedures in place at workplaces that contained machinery.

“It’s never safe to leave any piece of machinery operational while doing repairs or performing maintenance, and this case illustrates that effective lockout and tagging procedures are vitally important in any workplace where machinery is used,” Mr Munns said.

“Subsequent to this incident, the employer made the changes needed to reduce the likelihood of another incident like this, but these measures could reasonably have been taken at an earlier stage.

“Unfortunately, the changes were made too late for the injured worker who sustained a permanent injury.  And for the sake of modifications that would have been relatively low-cost, the employer will now be $52,000 poorer.

“Many workers have been seriously injured or killed when equipment or machinery they were working on has been left energised or accidentally activated, so it is absolutely crucial that safe systems of work are in place.

“These are basic and easy precautions to take, and it’s disappointing that we continue to see cases where these simple measures are not taken.

“This case is a reminder to any employer in a workplace containing hazardous machinery that it is crucial that safe work procedures be in place, especially when employees are adjusting, cleaning or maintaining machinery.”

Further information on machinery guarding, lock-out and tagging and safe systems of work can be obtained by telephoning WorkSafe on 1300 307877 or on the website at www.worksafe.wa.gov.au.


Media contact:  Caroline De Vaney 9327 8744 or 0408 927563 (media enquiries only).
caroline.devaney@commerce.wa.gov.au

WorkSafe
Media release
01 Nov 2012

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