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Worker fatally injured when struck by log

In February 2023, a timber yard worker was fatally injured when he was struck by a log. Early investigations found he was called over to investigate the cause of smoke coming from the control area of a debarker machine, while it was running. It appears he took a short-cut through the output area of the machine and a log moved down the discharge ramp and struck him, causing fatal injuries.

Safety issues

Fixed plant, including log debarking machines, often have several different types of moving parts. Hazards that are associated with fixed plant and likely to cause injury include:

  • rotating shafts, pulleys, gearing, cables, sprockets or chains
  • belt run-on points, chains or cables
  • crushing or shearing points
  • entrapment
  • projectiles
  • machine components that process and handle materials or product
  • unexpected movement of parts operated by hydraulic, electrical, electronic or remote-control systems.

Workers performing tasks such as operation, maintenance, repair, installation, service and cleaning on machines in all industries including sawmilling have a higher risk of being seriously injured or killed through sudden movement or inadvertent operation of machinery and equipment they are working in, on or around.

Debarker output and log collector area
Debarker output and log collector area

Ways to manage health and safety

Taking steps to manage risks is a condition of doing business in Queensland. 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 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 has duties to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the provision and maintenance of safe 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; for example, control areas of log debarking machines should be designed to allow for good visibility and safe operation of the machinery.

Improved design and technology can be fitted to older machinery and equipment to meet current standards and reflect the latest knowledge regarding ways to control hazards and risks in the workplace. The Australian Standards provide information on machinery and equipment safety systems and reflect the current state of knowledge and best practice. The AS4024 Safety of Machinery series of publications provides specific information for commonly used machine types in industry, such as woodworking or metalworking machinery.

Effective control measures for machinery, including log debarking machine systems, 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. Guarding can perform several functions including:
    • preventing contact with moving parts or controlling access to dangerous areas of plant
    • preventing ejected parts or off-cut from striking people.
  • Types of guarding:
    • 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)
    • a presence sensing system that 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
    • a fixed guard, which can only be altered or removed with a tool not normally available to the machine operator
    • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Emergency stop mechanisms fitted in strategic and accessible locations.

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

  • clearly marking areas around the log deck and log bins to keep pedestrians away from the log debarking area
  • loaders should have clear access to the log deck from log dump/unloading area
  • implementing a lock out/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 operated while workers are clearing blockages, performing maintenance or cleaning work
  • implementing a traffic management plan specific to the current layout of the workplace and designed around separating pedestrians and mobile plant such as loaders
  • providing information, training or instruction to workers that is suitable and adequate in a way that is readily understandable. This includes safe work procedures with instructions on:
    • the correct use of guarding and other control measures
    • dealing with equipment jamming
    • how to safely access, operate and maintain the plant.
  • workers who operate and perform work on plant should be competent or suitably supervised during training
  • communication systems should be established to ensure the operator is in communication with the loader operator and sawmill at all times
  • retaining 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
  • inspection of plant is conducted 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, hearing protection, steel cap boots and high visibility clothing.

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

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