In August 2019, a young worker suffered serious hand injuries after an incident at a meat processing workplace. Early enquiries indicate he was operating a guillotine style slicing machine used to cut frozen meat.
Investigations are continuing.
Preventing a similar incident
Plant is a major cause of workplace death and injury at Australian workplaces. There are significant risks associated with using plant and severe injuries can result from the unsafe use of plant including:
- limbs amputated by unguarded moving parts of machines
- limbs amputated by inadvertent activation of unguarded machinery
- electric shock from plant that is not adequately protected or isolated.
Slicing machines cut meat products and are used in a range of industries. A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) has duties under WHS legislation to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the provision and maintenance of safe plant.
The main hazards associated with meat slicing machines include:
- access to the cutting blade while it is moving
- continued operation of the machine while covers or guarding are removed or opened
- no emergency stop device within the operator's reach to rapidly stop the machine in an emergency situation.
Meat processing plants should ensure risk management is done, and safe systems of work are implemented for any plant or machinery before work commences. Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who operate and manage the business or undertaking, including company officers.
Health and safety risks must be, so far as is reasonably practicable, eliminated. However, if it's not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, then it should be minimised using the hierarchy of controls. This can be achieved by doing one or more of the following:
- Isolation - separate the hazardous plant from people e.g. by distance. If this control measure is not possible, the next steps can be considered.
- Engineering controls - modifications to the equipment - for example, using machine guarding to prevent persons from coming into contact with moving parts.
Examples of guarding include:
- a permanently fixed guard, if access to parts of the plant is not necessary during operation, maintenance or cleaning (for example, distance guards on a feed chute)
- an interlock guard if access to an area is necessary during operation, maintenance or cleaning. An interlock guard is connected to the plant's operational controls so that the plant in prevented from operating until the guard is closed. The guard should not be able to open or be removed until the moving parts (e.g. cutting blade) have stopped.
- a fixed guard, which can only be altered or removed using a tool that is not normally available to the operator.
- use a food pusher/plunger to feed the meat into the slicer.
Operator control devices should be designed:
- to be within easy access of the operator, easily able to be read and understood
- the desired effect can only occur by intentional operation of a control (for example provision of a starting control button)
- located outside danger zones and readily accessible for maintenance.
If any risk remains, it must be minimised by implementing administrative controls, for example: lockout – tagout procedures.
The following is an overview of the lockout tagout process:
- shutdown the machinery and equipment
- identify all energy sources and other hazards
- identify all isolation points
- isolate all energy sources
- de-energise all stored energies
- lockout all isolation points
- tag machinery controls, energy sources and other hazards
- test by 'trying' to reactivate the plant without exposing the tester or others to risk (failure to reactivate ensures that isolation procedures are effective and all stored energies have been dissipated).
Other examples of administrative controls include:
- providing information, instruction, training and supervision
- using warning signs or labels
- providing a system to report faults to ensure maintenance of plant.
Administrative control measures rely on human behaviour and supervision, and used on their own, tend to be least effective in minimising risks.
The control measures that are put in place to protect health and safety should be regularly reviewed to make sure they are effective. If problems are found, go back through the risk management steps, review your information, and make further decisions about control measures.
From 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2019, OIR was notified of six events involving an amputation related incident within the Meat, Poultry and Smallgoods Wholesaling industry. At the same time, eight statutory notices were issued by inspectors.
Prosecutions and compliance
In June 2019, a company was fined $90,000 when a worker's left index and middle fingers were amputated. The young worker was removing hocks off pigs using a single-handed hock cutter at a meat processor when his fingers were trapped, resulting in amputation.
In 2017, a company was fined $42,500 after a worker was injured cleaning a viscera table with a high-pressure hose while it was operating. During a final check of the work area, he found a piece of offcut under a table and attempted to remove it. He slipped and caught his arm in the machinery, resulting in traumatic amputation of his hand and forearm. He also sustained broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder.
- How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB)
- Managing risks of plant in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.57 MB)
- Machine guarding - film
- Guide to machinery and equipment safety (PDF, 1.46 MB)
- AS4024.1 - 2014 series: Safety of Machinery