On 10 December 2021, a manufacturing company was sentenced in the Beenleigh Magistrates Court for breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘the Act’), having failed to comply with its primary health and safety duty under section 19(1) of the Act. Magistrate Woodford imposed a $100,000 fine and did not record a conviction.
The defendant operated in a group of associated companies which manufactured roofing trusses to supply in building and construction work. The defendant manufactured laminated beams and had various items of plant which were used to machine the beams. One item of plant operated by the defendant company was a ‘finger jointer’, which machined each end of the wood beams in order for them to be glued together to form a longer length of timber, which was then cut to size.
The finger jointer had a series of cutting blades which were exposed and unguarded. As a result of an incident in 2012, the defendant installed perimeter fencing with an interlocked gate to guard against workers coming in proximity to, and contact with, the cutting blades. The interlocked gate, when opened, shut down electrical power to the plant. However, the cutting blades continued to spin for between approximately 3 to 5 minutes on residual power. During that time, a worker could access the area within the perimeter fence and be struck by the cutting blades.
On 27 November 2019, a worker accessed the area inside the perimeter fencing to clear a blockage. Whilst clearing the blockage his hand came into contact with the spinning saw blades. Two fingers were amputated during the contact.
In sentencing the defendant, His Honour acknowledged the timely plea of guilty and accepted it had, following the incident in 2012, put in place perimeter fencing to restrict access. He observed though that measure did not go far enough. His Honour noted the defendant had, prior to this incident, obtained a report from a WHS consultant which identified ways that the plant could be further engineered to apply a brake to stop the blades operating. That further measure had not been implemented.
His Honour noted that the perimeter fence gate had a lock and key which could have been secured to prevent any access to the secure area, though the lock was inoperable. His Honour noted the defendant did not expect workers to access the area whilst the blades were operating and workers had been instructed to wait until the blades stopped operating before approaching the machine.
His Honour further noted the injured person was not expected to access the area and he had not done so on any previous occasion. His Honour noted the serious injury caused to the worker and the maximum penalty of $1.5 million that may be imposed. His Honour observed that, after the incident, the defendant company installed a hydraulic brake on the machine. His Honour declined to record a conviction, noting the defendant company did not have any prior convictions.
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Section 19(1) and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011