Pipe maker fined $45,000 after amputation

A company that manufactures reinforced concrete products has been fined $30,000 after a worker's hand got caught in a machine at its Kilmore workplace, resulting in serious injury.

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Published: 31 October 2022

Reinforced Concrete Pipes Australia (Vic) Pty Ltd was fined an additional $15,000 for failing to control the risk of a forklift colliding with pedestrians or other mobile plant.

RCPA was also ordered to pay costs of $7,560. No conviction was recorded.

The company was sentenced last week in the Ballarat Magistrates' Court after earlier pleading guilty to a single charge of failing, so far as was reasonably practicable, to provide a safe working environment for persons other than employees, and a single charge of failing, so far as was reasonably practicable, to provide a safe working environment.

In November 2019, a labour hire worker was tasked with cleaning a concrete precast machine. To carry out the task, workers were required to enter the danger areas of the 40-tonne, six-metre high machine, descend four metres into a lower level and shovel concrete residue into a wheelbarrow for removal.

As the worker was lowered on a hydraulic platform his right hand became trapped between moving machine parts, resulting in the partial amputation of two fingers and the partial degloving of three fingers.

WorkSafe inspectors identified significant safety risks, including the risk of fall into the lower level by using the hydraulic platform rather than stairs to enter the lower level and exposure to multiple sheer and crush points.

The court heard RCPA had not carried out a risk assessment of the work, had not adequately trained the worker in the use of the plant, had not provided the machine's manual to the worker, knew safety gate interlocks had been deliberately bypassed, and knew the machine could be turned on while workers were still inside the danger areas.

Upon reviewing CCTV footage and during physical inspections, WorkSafe inspectors also witnessed forklifts being driven in close proximity to pedestrians.

The court heard the company did not have a documented traffic management plan, did not have a documented forklift procedure, had not set a minimum distance between forklifts and pedestrians, and did not have any physical barriers or designated zones to keep forklifts and pedestrians separated.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said RCPA's blatant neglect of its duty of care for its workers had resulted in a horrendous and life changing injury.

"It shouldn't take a serious injury for an employer to get its safety practices and procedures in order," Dr Beer said.

"WorkSafe inspectors regularly carry out proactive inspections across a large number of industries, so companies, large and small, must ensure they are doing everything they can to reduce the risk of workers being injured."

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.

Employers using mobile plant such as forklifts should ensure:

  • A traffic management plan is in place for pedestrians and powered mobile plant and that it is reviewed and updated as appropriate.
  • Pedestrians are separated from moving machinery and that an effective communication system between operators, transport contractors and ground staff is in place.
  • Signage is in place and barriers are erected where appropriate.
  • Visibility issues are identified and controlled, particularly if lighting is poor.
  • Workers operating equipment have the appropriate high risk work licences, as required.
  • Machinery and vehicles and regularly inspected and maintained by a suitably qualified person.
  • Employees and health and safety representatives are consulted about health and safety issues.