Limb, digit amputations prompt safety warning - 16.1.23

WorkSafe Victoria has encouraged employers to ensure all machinery is properly guarded and operated safely to avoid the risk of life-changing amputation injuries. In 2022, WorkSafe accepted 137 claims for workplace amputation injuries, with more than 150 body parts amputated, including at least 127 fingers or thumbs.

Digits caught in machinery or severed while using a saw accounted for about one-third of all amputation claims, while construction made up 15%. Labourers were most at risk, with 51 accepted claims in 2022, followed by tradies (37) and production and transport workers (31). WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said employers need to do more to ensure workers are kept safe from the risk of traumatic injuries due to unsafe work practices.

“The staggering number of workers who have lost limbs and digits from preventable incidents is simply unacceptable. No one should suffer such horrific, life-changing injuries at work. Employers need to make sure safety guards are fixed to machines at all times, and that staff are appropriately trained and supervised to undertake all tasks safely. We will not hesitate to prosecute anyone who fails to provide a safe and healthy workplace,” Beer said.

In 2022, fines and court costs totalling $256,094 were imposed against companies in eight WorkSafe prosecutions after workers sustained amputations. Charges against nine other Victorian employers for alleged breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act that resulted in amputation injuries remain before the courts, with WorkSafe currently investigating 24 matters involving amputations.

In June 2022, a Heidelberg cheese factory was fined $50,000 after two workers lost fingers to the revolving blades of a blender in separate incidents in 2019. It was reasonably practicable for Australian Dairy Packaging Pty Ltd to have a lockout–tagout procedure to prevent the blender being switched on during cleaning. Also in June 2022, Heyfield timber manufacturer Australian Sustainable Hardwoods Pty Ltd was fined $30,000 after a worker lost four toes when his foot became stuck in a conveyor motor’s chain and sprocket as he was putting a timber board onto a conveyor belt. The court heard that there was an absence of guarding on the motor.

In August 2022, a Dandenong South steel manufacturer committed to a $210,000 enforceable undertaking after a 2019 incident in which a worker had three fingers amputated after they were caught between rollers as he fed a metal bar through a machine used to bend steel.