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Fixed plant in packing sheds

Specialised tasks like packing produce on farms require the use of specialised fixed plant in packing sheds. Workers are exposed to a range of risks when using, cleaning, and maintaining fixed plant.

What do we mean by fixed plant in packing sheds?

Fixed plant in packing sheds are the machinery and equipment in the shed used by workers to assist in the packing of produce produced on the farm.

Examples of fixed plant in packing sheds include:

  • conveyors
  • grading and sorting lines
  • vibrating bins
  • tippers
  • storage bunkers
  • weighing machines
  • flow pack machines
  • stretch foil packing machines
  • top seal machines
  • labelling machines
  • palletising machines.

What are the risks of fixed plant in packing sheds?

Although designed to keep workers safe, fixed plant can present a range of risks, especially when it is operated in an enclosed environment like a packing shed.

Some of the risks include:

  • injuries ranging from minor grazes to amputations and death from entanglement of hair, clothing, and body parts due to:
    • unguarded chains, sprockets, pulleys, and other moving items within the plant
    • lack of guarding on nip points and belt drives
  • strains, sprains, broken bones, and muscle, tendon, and nerve damage from slips, trips and falls caused by:
    • produce and rubbish on floors
    • storage containers and pallets not stacked safely or in good order
    • water on floors in worker access areas
  • muscle, tendon, and nerve damage from repetitive movement of the wrists
  • back, shoulder and neck pain from standing, bending, and moving awkwardly
  • serious injury or death from electrocution due to poor electrical connections including:
    • cables near water without water proofing
    • cords located where scrubbing and wear occurs
    • frayed or uninsulated ends of leads attached to sockets
    • no appropriate safety switches attached to main switchboard
    • double adaptors in use for plant
  • hearing loss for workers due to noise exposure levels within the shed
  • burning of the eyes, nose, throat, chest, and skin, headaches, blurred vision, breathing difficulties, and stomach aches from inhaling fumes emitted by plant in a poorly or incorrectly ventilated enclosed space.

How do I manage the risks?

Workers and management can work together to reduce the risks of fixed plant in packing sheds.

For workers

As a worker, you must:

  • take care of your own health and safety as well as the health and safety of others
  • cooperate with management to meet health and safety requirements and reduce risks.

For businesses

As an employer or business owner, you have legal responsibilities as outlined in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 for the health and safety of every worker and visitor.

The four-step risk management process below will help businesses to meet their responsibilities under work health and safety (WHS) laws.

You can also use the practical advice in the How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB) or Managing the risks of plant in the workplace Code of Practice 2021.

Four steps to manage risk

The first step is to identify the hazards.

This can be done by considering the tasks being performed. The risks can result from the actions of workers, the fixed plant or the setting.

Ask yourself:

  • Is the plant properly designed for the job?
  • Are all hazardous parts protected by guards?
  • Is the plant well maintained, and are all guards and safety features in good working order?
  • Is the shed the right size and design for the plant, the number of workers, and the work?
  • Are my workers properly trained in using the plant and in doing the tasks I’m asking them to do?

Talk to your workers and ask:

  • Are you aware of any potential hazards?
  • How can we improve our safety and our processes?
  • Do you know how to report a hazard?

Regularly review your own records, and consider:

  • What do your workers’ compensation claims, recorded incidents, sick leave, and worker complaints tell you about past incidents and hazards?
  • What can you do to prevent the same things happening again?

Identifying hazards should be an ongoing activity and something organised at least once a year, or whenever there is a change in equipment, facilities, or work practices.

Next, assess the level of risk posed by each hazard. The risk level is determined by:

  • how serious the potential harm is
  • how likely it is to happen.

You can use this risk assessment template (DOCX, 0.02 MB) to guide you and record your assessments.

The law requires you to eliminate the risks if practical or to minimise them as much as possible.

Prioritise the controls that either remove the hazard or reduce the risk most effectively. Use the hierarchy of controls to understand the types of controls you can put in place and how effective they will be. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest.

Eliminate the risks as much as possible through good work design. Additional ways to control the risks of fixed plant in packing sheds include:

  • installing plant according to the manufacturer’s instructions and only on flat and even surfaces
  • ensuring guards are over entrapment points and are fixed appropriately and in sound condition
  • minimising noise generation from machinery by:
    • providing attenuation guards
    • greasing and oiling moving parts
    • repositioning machinery
    • dampening vibration
  • maintaining the plant to very high standards, and as recommended by the manufacturer
  • ensuring adequate ventilation systems are in place to remove any fumes from the packing shed
  • maintaining electrical safety by:
    • clearly marking circuits in switch boxes
    • fitting and testing safety switches (type 1 or 2 residual current devices) to power circuits
    • suspending leads overhead rather than on floors
    • ensuring full isolating switches for all motors are in place and near to workers
    • ensuring all circuits are intact
  • training workers in safe work procedures such as:
    • machine lockout for clearing blockages, maintenance and cleaning, and emergency procedures
    • good housekeeping
    • start-up, operation, and shut down of machinery
    • operation of forklifts
    • avoiding manual task injury
    • being appropriately dressed, including wearing eye and ear protection, close-fitting clothing, and slip-resistant footwear
  • rotating workers between different jobs to reduce fatigue and repetitive actions.

You should regularly review your control measures. Don’t wait for something to go wrong. If necessary, change or adjust your approach. The aim is to maintain a work environment that is without risks to health and safety.

Work health and safety laws require you to review controls:

  • when you become aware a control measure is not working effectively
  • before a change that might introduce a new risk
  • when you find a new hazard or risk
  • when your workers tell you that a review is needed
  • after a health and safety representative requests a review.