Recycling company fined after two workers injured

A Melbourne recycling company has been fined $115,000 over two separate incidents that left workers with serious injuries.
News article published

Friday 21 Aug 2020

Industries and topics
  • Waste and recycling
  • Fall prevention
  • Plant hazards

SKM Services Pty Ltd was convicted and fined in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court on August 7 after earlier pleading guilty to four charges.

The recycling company was also ordered to pay costs of $18,000.

SKM was fined $50,000 for two charges of failing to maintain a safe workplace and failing to provide safe plant following an incident at its Laverton North recycling sorting facility in 2017.

The company was fined $15,000 on a third charge of failing to provide safe plant relating to inadequate guarding around temporary plant after the 2017 incident.

SKM Services was fined $50,000 on a fourth charge of failing to maintain a safe workplace for a separate incident at the same site in 2018.

The court heard that in the 2018 incident, a 60-year-old woman working on a paper sorting conveyor line from an elevated platform fell 2.9 metres to the ground below.

The worker was taken to hospital with a serious head injury.

WorkSafe investigators found there was no fall protection next to the ladders providing access to an overhead footbridge and that the ladders did not have the necessary handrail at the top to assist getting to and from the footbridge.

In the earlier incident, the court heard a 68-year-old worker was dragged up a conveyor and trapped against a steel beam on a separator machine when the paper sorting line was restarted while he was performing routine maintenance.

The court heard there were no fall protection risk controls in place for the task, which required the worker to access the separator’s conveyor belt at a height of more than two metres.

The worker had forgotten to turn off the separator's isolation switch located at the top of the conveyor.

Another worker who heard the injured man's screams called out for the machine to be stopped after being unable to locate an emergency stop button.

The trapped worker suffered multiple hip and pelvis injuries and was unable to work for about four months.

WorkSafe inspectors found there were no emergency stops in the vicinity of the separator and the machine's three energy isolators were not locked out or tagged and were located more than two metres above ground inside the perimeter guarding.

They also found; a gap in the removable perimeter guarding, that tools to remove the guards were accessible by operators and that no energy isolation point was fitted onto the machine's main control.

Four months after the incident, inspectors observed the separator had been reconfigured but found perimeter guarding that could be removed by hand; perimeter guarding that was open or not secured; and electrical proximity interlock switches on the gates of the perimeter guarding that were disconnected, enabling access to the underside of the conveyors while the machine was operating.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said falls from heights and inadequate guarding were both well-known causes of workplace injuries and deaths.

"These horrific incidents should serve as a warning to all employers that failing to protect workers can have life altering impacts on injured workers and lead to convictions and fines for those responsible," Ms Nielsen said.

"There are no excuses for working at height without guardrails or other fall prevention measures, or for failing to have adequate guarding and lock-out systems in place and WorkSafe will not hesitate to prosecute employers who fail to protect their workers."

To manage risks when working with machinery employers should:

  • Identify hazards, assess the risks associated with them and eliminate or control those risks by isolating them or using an alternative.
  • Train staff in the safe operation of machines and equipment and provide written procedures in the worker's first language.
  • Develop and implement safe operating procedures in consultation with employees and health and safety representatives.
  • Ensure safety guards and gates are compliant and fixed to machines at all times.
  • Regularly service and inspect machines and equipment.
  • Place signs on or near a machine to alert employees of the dangers of operating it.
  • Ensure fall protection such as guards and rails are in place when workers are working from height or near drops.