The defendant company held duties under s.19 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 being a company involved with logging, sawmilling, timber treatment and distribution. It had operated a sawmill since 1988 and employed between 55 and 60 workers at the site. On 14 November 2016 one of these workers was injured at the site.
The sawmill had a number of saws used for milling timber, including a Gibson No. 5 saw. The Gibson saw was operated by two workers, the operator who fed timber into the saw, guiding the cutting, and the tail outer who received the cut timber at the other end. The operator was also responsible for monitoring the state of the Gibson saw, including whether the blade was properly aligned and, if not, to align the blade by adjusting the packing which sat either side of the blade.
The injured worker had been employed by the defendant from July 2014, initially as a Green Chain Operator and then to docker operator, tailer outer of the Gibson saw and ultimately in April 2015 to Bench Saw operator for the Gibson saw. He completed one week's training in operating the Gibson saw in September 2014 and was formally assessed as being competent on 22 September 2014. As part of his training he was provided with a Job Safety Analysis (JSA) and a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) for the Gibson saw. He was retrained and reassessed on the operation on the Gibson saw on 22 September 2015 and 4 November 2016 and was assessed as being competent on both occasions.
The defendant's written procedures as outlined in the JSA and SWMS for adjusting the saw packing on the Gibson saw were that the saw was to be switched off and the operator wait for the blade to stop moving before adjusting the nuts next to the saw packing with a spanner. In particular, the JSA relevantly identifies the task of 'adjust saw packing' as having an associated risk of 'injury from moving machinery' and identifies the control measure of 'shut down saw bench as per shut down procedure. Isolate all sources of energy. Make sure all moving parts have stopped before adjusting saw'.
The SWMS describes the safety system for maintenance as 'isolate according to “Isolation” Work Instruction T-S-SF-WI-001 if repairs are required ('Danger' or 'Out of Service' tag) and the safety system for the saw is described as 'Never place your hands/arms near the moving saw – use a push stick to remove bark or splinters in the saw area. Use great care – STOP & isolate the saw if necessary. Always keep a safe distance when working near the saw.'
However sometime prior to 14 November 2016 another employee of the defendant, and then in the role of leading hand at the sawmill, told the injured worker and at least two other operators of the Gibson saw of an alternative method of adjusting the saw packing. This method involved adjusting the nuts either side of the saw packing with a spanner with the saw still running. The leading hand told each of the operators that it was quicker than turning the saw off and waiting for the blade to stop spinning.
On 14 November 2016 the injured worker was operating the Gibson saw. He was wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, including gloves. While adjusting the nuts either side of the saw packing with a spanner while the Gibson saw was running, he slipped and his hand moved into the path of the Gibson saw blade. He sustained a serious injury to his left hand involving the amputation of 3 fingers.
The defendant immediately notified Workplace Health and Safety Queensland of the incident and an inspector attended the site the same day. The defendant interviewed relevant employees and was informed that the leading hand had told some Gibson saw operators of an alternative procedure to adjust the saw packing with the Gibson saw running (the informal procedure) and that he had demonstrated and taught the informal procedure to some Gibson saw operators. The defendant did not authorise the use of the informal procedure and the informal procedure did not comply with the JSA or the SWMS for the Gibson saw.
The defendant accepted that it was liable for the conduct of the leading hand in introducing the informal procedure which resulted in the incident injuring the worker.
The other two operators did not use the informal procedure – they followed the defendant's written procedures to adjust the saw packing with the Gibson saw turned off and the blade still.
Following these investigations, the defendant:
(a) Re-trained and re-inducted all operators of the Gibson saw at the sawmill with regard to the safety procedures for operating the saw and in particular that adjustments to the packing were only to be done with the saw turned off;
(b) Spoke with the leading hand regarding the safety issues associated with the informal procedure and demoted him;
(c) Had a steel mesh guard fitted to the Gibson saw so that operators can adjust the saw packing with the Gibson saw running and the guard lowered to avoid risk of injury.
On 28 March 2018, the defendant pleaded guilty in the Maryborough Magistrates Court to breaching s.32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, having failed to meet its work health and safety duties and was sentenced.
Magistrate Jim Parker fined the defendant $40,000 and ordered professional and court costs totaling $1,092.55. The court ordered that no conviction be recorded.
In reaching a decision, the Magistrate acknowledged the mitigating features of the defendant including remorse, offering additional assistance to the injured person and his family (for personal matters), finding suitable alternative work at the workplace and generally addressing the issue by introducing engineering control and restating the administrative control measures in place. His Honour made the comment “familiarity breeds contempt”, and agreed with prosecution that engineering controls in the hierarchy of control are paramount.
In deciding penalty, Magistrate Parker also took into account the defendant had not been prosecuted previously for any work health and safety breach, co-operated with the investigation and entered an early plea of guilty.
Considerations for prevention
(commentary under this heading is not part of the court's decision)
When working in the timber milling industry where there is exposure to risks from contact with moving saw blades, duty holders should apply a risk management approach to ensure the selection of suitable control measures.
Risk management involves identifying the hazards, evaluating the consequences and likelihood of harm that may result from the hazard, deciding and implementing control measures to prevent or minimise the level of the risk from the hazard and monitoring the effectiveness of the control measures to ensure they remain working correctly.
When deciding and implementing control measures associated with the risk of entanglement from unguarded plant, obligation holders should consider ensuring plant remains guarded.
Visit the Workplace Health and Safety Queensland website for information on:
- Work Health and Safety Act 2011
- How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB)
- Date of offence:
- Finger amputation injuries
- Maryborough Magistrates Court
- Jim Parker
- s.32 of the duty under s.19(1) Work Health and Safety Act 2011
- Decision date:
- Fined $40,000
- Maximum Penalty:
- Conviction recorded:
- CIS event number: