Company fined $50,000 for not providing safe workplace

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Employee / workerEmployer

An infrastructure company has been fined $50,000 over an incident in 2011 that resulted in a worker having both legs amputated below the knee.

The Pilbara Infrastructure - a wholly owned subsidiary of Fortescue Metals Group Ltd - pleaded guilty to failing to provide and maintain a safe work environment for a person who was not an employee, and was fined in the Perth Magistrates Court today.

The charge arose out of an incident at Anderson Point (near Port Hedland) in July 2011 when four men were working on and in the vicinity of a train unloader “indexer”.

The purpose of the train unloader is to automatically unload iron ore from ore carts and transfer it onto conveyor belts.

The indexer is an electrically powered machine that runs parallel to a railway line.  It shunts ore cars along the line using an arm that can be extended from and retracted back into the indexer.

The incident occurred during a three-day maintenance shutdown, and none of the men was employed directly by The Pilbara Infrastructure.

The workers were required to replace the gearbox on the indexer, but were not warned that the indexer arm, when extended, sloped downwards and needed to be adequately supported if it was disconnected from the gearbox.

When the gearbox was disengaged from the crankshaft, the 14-tonne indexer arm immediately began to extend, sliding down the rollers and accelerating.  One of the men working on the indexer was caught between the arm and pinch points on the indexer.

His left leg was immediately amputated below the knee, and his right leg was crushed between the moving arm and fixed steelwork.  He was transferred to Royal Perth Hospital, where his right leg was later also amputated below the knee.

WorkSafe WA Commissioner Lex McCulloch said today the case illustrated the importance of recognising workplace hazards and having comprehensive safe systems of work in place to minimise these hazards.

“The charge brought against The Pilbara Infrastructure did not allege that the injuries suffered by the worker were caused by TPI’s failure to provide and maintain a safe work environment for workers,” Mr McCulloch said.

“However, it was agreed that the injuries were relevant in that they demonstrated the hazard posed by the uncontrolled movement of the indexer arm, a hazard that was not clearly identified and minimised by implementing a strict safe system of work.

“Although the indexer had been electrically isolated during the work so it could not actually be started, the risk of uncontrolled movement due to gravity had not been properly considered and guarded against.

“A worker suffered devastating and permanent injuries that were, in the end, totally avoidable.”

Mr McCulloch said WorkSafe and the Department of Mines and Petroleum had worked in close co-operation in investigating the incident and achieving the successful prosecution of The Pilbara Infrastructure.

Media contact: Caroline De Vaney 6251 2363 or 0408 927563 (media enquiries only)

Follow @WorkSafeWA on Twitter

Media release
09 Jun 2016

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