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Poor supervision of new worker costs business $40,000

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21 October 2020

At a recent hearing in the Beenleigh Magistrates Court, a company was fined $40,000 for failing to ensure the health and safety of its workers, resulting in exposure to risk of death or serious injury. In particular, the defendant failed to adequately supervise an employee.

The defendant operates a business that rolls sheets of metal into cylinders using large rolling machines. At the time of the incident, the company owned and operated two plate rollers. One was inside the factory and contained three rolling mechanisms to roll the metal. The other larger one, the DAVI machine, was located outside the factory and contained four rollers.

To clean the inside machine, workers sprayed kerosene on the rollers and wiped them with a rag using their hands. The bottom two rollers could be lowered to create a space large enough to fit a person, therefore removing the pinch point and its associated risks. Workers often bypassed the machine’s hold-to-run control by hooking a c-shaped piece of wire around the button so they could clean the machine while the rollers turned.

Although similar in appearance, the rollers on the DAVI machine could not be dropped, resulting in a pinch point and risk of injury.

On 6 June 2018, a general labourer was instructed to clean the DAVI machine. The worker had only been employed for two months, had only been shown how to clean the DAVI roller once, and had never cleaned it personally.

The worker was told not to turn on the machine prior to cleaning it. However, he bypassed the DAVI machine’s hold-to-run control by using a bungee cord that ordinarily secured a protective tarpaulin over the apparatus when not in use. The worker connected the bungee cord around the joystick of the machine, in a similar fashion to the wire placed around the button of the inside machine, so that he could clean the rollers as they turned.

Midway through cleaning, the worker went inside the factory and asked his supervisor whether he could move the top roller of the machine upward to create a larger gap, as was done on the inside machine. The supervisor advised the worker not to turn on the machine while cleaning it, as operating the machine while the rollers were up would damage the machine. The worker returned to cleaning the machine with the rollers moving and his arm was subsequently drawn into the rolling machine, causing crush injuries and degloving injuries up to his elbow.

Investigations by Work Health and Safety Queensland revealed the company did not have any documented procedures or Safe Work Method Statements for cleaning the rolling machines. Discussions with employees found the ‘correct’ method for cleaning the rolling machines was to just do a section of the roller, then turn the rollers to the next section, turn off the machine, and then clean the next section.

In sentencing, Magistrate Clare Kelly accepted the basis of the defendant’s plea was that the company failed to adequately supervise the worker who was a new employee and was previously instructed to clean the inside machine while it was operating.

Magistrate Kelly acknowledged the worker did not have adequate experience cleaning the machines and there were no written procedures outlining how to do so, although she commented there was no disputing the man disobeyed two clear instructions not to turn on the DAVI machine before cleaning it. Her Honour noted post-incident remediation steps had been taken by the business.

Magistrate Kelly observed the seriousness and significance of the worker’s injuries which required multiple surgeries.

Her Honour took into the account an early guilty plea, the defendant’s antecedents were significant with only one injury on its work health and safety record in twenty years, its full co-operation with the WHSQ investigation, the company’s strained financial position and that it had continued to employ all its workers despite the adverse impacts of COVID-19.

Magistrate Kelly determined deterrence and punishment were paramount, imposing a fine of $40,000, plus court costs of almost $1600. No conviction was recorded.

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For any media enquiries, contact: enquiries@owhsp.qld.gov.au or 0478 33 22 00.