On 8 December 2021, a meat processing company and its director were sentenced in the Toowoomba Magistrates Court for breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘the Act’) having failed to comply with their respective health and safety duties under sections 21 and 27 of the Act. Acting Magistrate Stark fined the company $85,000 and the director $15,000.
The defendant company operated a business in smallgoods manufacturing and as a butcher shop, employing approximately 40 workers. The managing director purchased a 30-year old bacon slicer machine through a secondhand machinery supplier. The machine did not come with a user or operational manual and the director and his adult son operated the machine to discern how it would be used.
The bacon slicer was operated by meat being placed on the carriage or conveyor of the machine which was fitted with an arm that gripped and pushed the meat toward the slicing blade. At the time of purchase there was a plastic guard which partially covered the carriage. The plastic guard was subsequently replaced by the defendant with a stainless steel one. There was a gap between the guard and the in-feed side of the machine where the slicing blade was located. The gap measured 155 millimeters wide and 330 millimeters high. The machine could only be operated when the guard was in position over the carriage.
There was no risk assessment completed on the bacon slicer and the written work instruction implemented by the defendant company contained no instruction or procedure directed towards its safe operation. Initially, the director and his son were the only persons to use the machine. Both subsequently provided informal instruction to two other workers who used the machine including the operations manager of the business.
On 9 January 2020, the operations manager was using the bacon slicer to slice pepperoni. He placed the sticks of pepperoni on the carriage of the machine, put the guard down and turned it on which activated the arm to push the sticks of pepperoni towards the in-feed section of the machine. As this occurred, he placed his arm in the gap between the guard and the in-feed section of the machine which resulted in his forearm being caught and crushed by the arm of the machine. He hit the emergency stop button but was unable to free his arm. His arm was freed approximately 30 minutes later when a section of the machine was removed. He was transported to hospital where he was found to have severe fracture injuries to his arm which required significant treatment including nine surgeries and hospitalization for five weeks.
In sentencing, Acting Magistrate Stark noted that the matter had proceeded to sentence after the defendants had entered pleas of guilty. His Honour noted that the gap on the machine was apparent and that had been used for two years prior to the incident. His Honour found that the victim impact statement of the operations manager spoke to the significant impact of the injury, that the impact was ongoing and that his life had significantly changed.
His Honour indicated that the defendants were at fault for not identifying the risk posed and not conducting a risk assessment on the new plant, regardless of how it was purchased. His Honour held it was incumbent on the defendants to undertake a risk assessment and obtain material in relation to the plant as identified in the Managing the risks of plant in the workplace code of practice 2021.
In mitigation, the learned Magistrate accepted that both defendants had entered pleas of guilty and cooperated with the investigation by Work Health and Safety Queensland. It was also accepted that the company was a family-owned business, had operated for a long time, this was the first time it had offended and that it was a good corporate citizen. The defendant director also had no prior offences under the Act. In determining not to record a conviction, his Honour took into account the lack of prior offending.
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Sections 21 and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011
Sections 27 and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011