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Amputation and crush injuries from fixed plant and machinery

In May 2023, a worker’s hand was injured while he was repairing a knocking box (used to stun livestock). Early investigations indicate his hand contacted the cradle and was partially amputated.

In July 2023, another worker suffered a crush injury to her arm while working on a foot-operated de-nailing machine that removes the nails of the beast from the hock. At this stage of the investigation, it’s unclear what the worker was doing when her arm was drawn between the rollers and crushed.

Also in July 2023, a worker’s hand was crushed in a plate rolling machine. The worker was using the plate roller to roll metal rings when, for reasons yet to be established, their hand was drawn into the cylinder rollers.

Safety issues

Fixed plant, including roller machines, conveyors and stun boxes, often have several moving parts. Hazards associated with fixed plant that are likely to cause injury include:

  • rotating shafts, pulleys, gearing, cables, sprockets or chains
  • belt run-on points, chains or cables
  • crushing or shearing points such as roller feeds and conveyor feeds
  • machine components that process and handle materials or product (move, flatten, level, cut, grind, pulp, crush, break or pulverise)
  • unexpected movement of parts operated by hydraulic, electrical, electronic or remote-control systems.

Workers operating, maintaining, fault diagnosing, repairing, installing, servicing and cleaning machines in all industry sectors have a higher risk of being seriously injured or killed through inadvertent operation of machinery and equipment they are working in, on, or around.

Ways to manage health and safety

Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business. If an incident occurs, you'll need to show the regulator that you’ve used an effective risk management process. This responsibility is covered by your primary duty of care in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Use the hierarchy of controls to help decide how to eliminate and reduce risks in your place of work. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability, to the lowest. It’s a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks. You must work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks, with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control.

Possible control measures to prevent similar incidents

Unsafe use or exposure to unguarded moving parts of plant and machinery is dangerous and can lead to serious injury and death. A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must eliminate risks arising from plant in the workplace, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks so far as is reasonably practicable. The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 includes more specific requirements for PCBUs to manage the risks of plant.

Higher order risk controls include designing plant or structures to be without risks to the health and safety of any person. Eliminating potential hazards at the design or planning stage of a product enables the incorporation of risk control measures that are compatible with the original design and function requirements.

Effective control measures for machinery are often made up of a combination of controls. Some common risk control measures can include but are not limited to the following examples:

  • Guarding - physical or other barriers that increase safety for operators and others involved in the normal operation, servicing, and maintenance of machines. Types of guarding include:
    • a permanently fixed guard if access to parts of the plant requiring guarding is not necessary during operation, maintenance, or cleaning (for example, distance guards on a feed chute)
    • an interlock guard is connected to the plant's operating controls so the plant can't operate when the guard is open. The guard should not be able to open or be removed until the moving parts (i.e. cutting blade) have stopped. When designing interlock guards, consider any hazards that could be created by automatic restarting of the machine when the interlock guard is re-closed
    • a fixed guard, which can only be altered or removed with a tool not normally available to the machine operator
    • a presence sensing system which detects when a person (or part of a person's body) enters the danger zone and stops a machine. Photoelectric light beams, laser scanners and foot pressure mats are examples of these type of guards. They rely on sensitive trip mechanisms and the machine being able to stop quickly.
  • Providing suitable tools to prevent the need for workers to enter the danger zone for clearing blockages
  • Locking out remote controls to ensure they cannot be activated when the worker is in the danger zone.

Risks can be further minimised by implementing administrative and personal protective equipment (PPE) controls. Examples include:

  • implementing a lock out and tag-out procedure to ensure the plant is isolated and de-energised from all energy sources prior to workers accessing any parts of the machine. This ensures the plant cannot be inadvertently re-energised or operated while workers are clearing blockages, performing maintenance or cleaning work
  • providing information, training or instruction to workers that is suitable, adequate and readily understandable. This includes safe work procedures with instructions on:
    • the correct use of guarding and other control measures
    • how to safely access, operate and maintain the plant.
  • ensuring workers who operate and perform work on plant are competent and suitably supervised during training
  • retaining and following all operating manuals and instructional material provided by the manufacturer to correctly operate and maintain the plant
  • consulting with workers as early as possible when planning to introduce new plant or change the way plant is used. Workers should be encouraged to report hazards and health and safety problems immediately so the risks can be managed
  • inspecting plant in accordance with a regular maintenance system to identify:
    • deficiencies in plant such as wear and tear, corrosion and damaged parts
    • adverse effects of changes in processes or materials associated with the plant
    • inadequacies in control measures that have been previously implemented.
  • gloves (if appropriate for the task), protective footwear, eye protection and hearing protection.

The control measures you put in place should be regularly reviewed to make sure they are effective. If the control measure is not working effectively, it must be revised to ensure it is effective in controlling the risk.

More information

Have you been affected by a workplace fatality, illness or serious injury?

For advice and support: