Employers fined

Employers fined over amputations and other injuries

A number of NSW employers have been fined for dangerously modifying plant, failing to instruct employees to read operating manuals and other safety breaches, following a series of severe injuries, including two amputations.In the first case, Waycon Bulk Pty Ltd was fined $195,000 for breaching ss32 and 38 of the State WHS Act, in failing to ensure the safety of a worker and failing to notify SafeWork NSW that he was injured.In April 2013, the worker was leaning across a wood splitting machine to adjust a wood block when his thigh pressed a button that activated a ram/blade, which descended onto his right wrist and severed his hand.SafeWork NSW was notified of the incident by police two days later.The District Court heard that before the incident, the employer modified the machine to allow an operator to extend the ram/blade by only pressing one button, instead of simultaneously pressing two buttons.The employer claimed this modification was “safer” than the original design because it allowed employees to have one hand free to defend their face and chest if a log “exploded” when it was split.Judge Andrew Scotting found the employer didn’t investigate any other way to mitigate the risk of logs exploding, and the modification was “inappropriate and ill considered” and “created a risk far more serious than the alternative risk it was intended to address”.He found there were no guards around the buttons to prevent them from being inadvertently pressed and no documented operating procedures for the machine.Judge Scotting also found a verbal instruction given to workers not to place their hands on top of the blocks of wood “was in no way capable of preventing the injury that occurred”.”Further, the verbal instruction was not being enforced by any or any adequate supervision of the workers during the course of the operation of the machine,” he said.The employer pleaded guilty, and Judge Scotting fined it $187,500 for the s32 charge and $7500 for the s38 charge, after 25 per cent discounts for its guilty plea and cooperation. He ordered 50 per cent of the fines to be paid to the prosecutor.Safe Work New South Wales v Waycon Bulk Pty Ltd [2015] NSWDC 254 (10 September 2015)

Manager didn’t read operating manual

In the second case, two employers were convicted of breaching the old NSW OHS Act, after a 16-year-old farm labourer suffered severe crush injuries to his left leg, which was later amputated below the knee, when an 8.4-tonne counterweight fell from an excavator and struck him.The District Court heard that at the time of the July 2010 incident, the farm manager wrongly assumed the counterweight would remain suspended from the excavator if six bolts were removed, and directed two workers to remove them, resulting in the incident.Auen Grain Pty Ltd and Merrywinebone Pty Ltd (in a partnership trading as Greentree Farming) both pleaded guilty to failing to require employees to read and follow the excavator’s operating manual, instruct workers to properly inspect the excavator before performing work, or undertake an adequate risk assessment.But the gravity of the offence was “reduced by the circumstance that the failures for which the [employers] are responsible in law were not systemic failures, but failures on the part of an individual that senior management had no cause to foresee”, Judge James Curtis said.He said Auen Grain “had turned [its] mind to safety considerations that may arise in maintaining an excavator and had prepared a written job safety analysis, pursuant to which the recommended procedure was to, ‘follow instructions in manual'”.The farm manager was “well aware” of the JSA, he said.Judge Curtis found it was appropriate to issue only one penalty in circumstances where convicted employers were in a partnership. He fined Auen Grain $41,250, after a 25 per cent discount for its early guilty plea, cooperation and contrition, and convicted Merrywinebone without imposing a fine.SafeWork NSW v Auen Grain Pty Ltd and SafeWork NSW v Merrywinebone Pty Ltd [2015] NSWDC 229 (22 September 2015)

Worker forced to jump to avoid falling crane

Meanwhile, Southern Cross Rigging and Construction Pty Ltd and Khalil Merhi – “a person concerned in the management” of the company – were convicted and fined after a worker was injured when he jumped from a scissor lift to avoid being struck by a falling mobile crane in May 2010.The District Court found the crane operator had jammed a stick into the override button of the automatic moment limiter, allowing the crane to be operated despite being overloaded.Southern Cross and Merhi were convicted of breaching the now-repealed State OHS Act, and fined $51,000 and $5400 respectively.In another case, Aluminium Shapemakers Pty Ltd was convicted and fined $37,500 under s32 of the WHS Act in the District Court, after a worker was injured in October 2012 when he became trapped in an extrusion press that automatically started while he was retrieving an off cut.The last two decisions aren’t available online.