Company fined after worker loses both legs in accident - 22.3.21

Gilmac Pty Ltd, a hay processing and exporting company, has pleaded guilty in the South Australia Employment Tribunal (SAET) for breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA), after a worker’s legs were amputated below the knee in a hay press.

In 2017, a worker was standing on the mezzanine platform of a key press, attempting to clear residue from the press with a ‘metal bale’. The metal bale was being manoeuvred into position on the press’s weigh table when it became stuck. The worker attempted to dislodge the metal bale from behind the platform’s guardrail and fell approximately 3 m onto the weigh table below. The weight of the worker on the metal bale activated the hay press’s cutting blade, which amputated both of the worker’s legs below the knees.

SafeWork SA noted that the incident could have been avoided if the business had conducted an assessment of the risks associated with the plant and implemented adequate engineering controls, such as guarding and sensors, and had developed safe systems of work for clearing residue. It was also revealed that the hay press had not been isolated as the worker was moving the metal bale in preparation for clearing the residue.

Gilmac was charged for failing to undertake a risk assessment of the hay processing plant; provide appropriate guarding or exposed areas; and provide safe access and adequate operating procedures for access to plant.

SAET convicted Gilmac and imposed a $350,000 fine (before a 30% discount for an early guilty plea), plus costs. In sentencing, Deputy Magistrate Cole considered the early guilty plea and applied a 30% discount, accepting the defendant’s contrition and acknowledging the company had expended significant money to design a new machine and reviewed its protocols and training in the workplace.

He further stated that there was, “little mitigation in a defendant spending money getting its safety processes up to scratch, when they should have been up to scratch in the first place”.

SafeWork SA Executive Director Martyn Campbell said the incident should serve as a reminder to all employers of their duty to ensure adequate controls and safe systems are in place.

“This incident could quite easily have resulted in a fatality, and shows a blatant disregard by the business in ensuring adequate safe systems were in place to protect workers from the unforgiving risks associated with this type of machinery. A worker is now dealing with the long-term life-changing physical and mental injuries from this incident,” Campbell said.

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