Recycler fined $200,000 after worker suffers horrific injuries
A Dandenong South food recycling company has been convicted and fined $200,000 after a young worker was left with lifelong injuries when they were crushed by the steel doors of a processing machine.
Published:05 December 2023
Branin Recycles Pty Ltd was sentenced in the Dandenong Magistrates' Court last week after being found guilty of one charge of failing to provide or maintain a safe system of work and two charges of failing to eliminate or reduce any risk associated with plant.
The company was also ordered to pay costs of $4,541.
The court heard Branin Recycles processed out-of-date food into cattle fodder using a large and complex piece of machinery consisting of various parts, which was designed and manufactured by the company's director.
To free blockages in the rotating drum that separated food from waste material, workers would access the top of the machine via a side walkway, slide down a conveyor and crawl underneath two steel access doors, which weighed between 50-100 kilograms each and opened downward.
In December 2019, a 21-year-old worker was attempting to clear a blockage when the steel bolt holding the doors closed failed while she was underneath. The doors opened unexpectedly with an estimated force in excess of 200 kilograms, hitting the worker in the head and covering her in expired bread, which a fellow worker had to remove to prevent her from suffocating.
The worker was in a coma for a month and remained in hospital for six months after the incident. She suffered severe injuries including brain damage, blindness in one eye and sight impairment in the other, partial deafness, diminished sense of smell and taste, nerve damage and permanent scarring. The worker’s rehabilitation is ongoing and she is still unable to return to work.
A WorkSafe investigation found that the bolt holding the drum door closed was prone to fail and break due to the rotating forces, causing the doors to open.
The court found it was reasonably practicable for Branin Recycles to provide a safe system of work for the maintenance of the rotating drum such as fitting a hydraulic hand pump or similar device to allow workers to open the doors remotely; and to install adequate guarding that restricted bodily access to the drum's danger areas and the conveyor belt's rotating parts.
WorkSafe Executive Director Narelle Beer said this was a case of an incident waiting to happen.
"It is just heartbreaking that a young worker has suffered such traumatic and lifelong injuries simply because she went to work and did the job she was told to do," Dr Beer said.
"It's up to employers to ensure all machinery is properly guarded, that there are safe systems of work in place and that workers have been appropriately trained to operate and maintain machinery safely."
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.