Partial finger amputation leads to $50K fine for Vic water corporation - 9.5.23

Utility company Goulburn Valley Region Water Corporation, trading as Goulburn Valley Water, has been convicted and fined $50,000 after a worker was injured while cleaning part of a waste water management system. The corporation was sentenced after pleading guilty to a single charge of failing to provide or maintain safe plant. It was also ordered to pay $3906 in costs.

The incident occurred in October 2021, when a worker was undertaking regular cleaning of a machine used to separate solid materials from waste water at a Mooroopna North sewage treatment facility. As the worker attempted to dislodge solid material from a part of the machine known as a screw press, the steel pipe he was using became entangled and twisted around the rotating screw. This jammed the worker’s right hand into the moving metal fingers of a step screen located above the screw press, causing a partial amputation of his index finger and a de-gloving of his middle finger.

An investigation by WorkSafe Victoria found that when being cleaned, the machine was regularly placed in manual mode so it could continue to run when guarding on the danger area was removed. It was reasonably practicable for Goulburn Valley Water to have fitted an interlock device to prevent the machine running when guarding was removed. WorkSafe Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said it was crucial for employers to act when risks associated with inspecting and cleaning machinery were identified.

“Just because a particular process has been used in the past without incident does not necessarily mean that it is without risks to the health and safety of workers. There was simply no excuse for exposing this worker to serious injury, especially given this employer had already acted to reduce the same risk on similar machines at other treatment facilities,” Beer said.

To ensure plant and equipment is cleaned safely, WorkSafe advises duty holders to undertake a risk assessment to identify any hazards and assess how to remove or control them. A documented procedure must also be in place, including on how to power down and isolate equipment.

Duty holders must also ensure machines are powered down, fully secured and stable before any cleaning begins, and that machinery is properly guarded, with safety interlocks checked regularly. All workers must be properly trained and supervised so they understand the procedure and the risks associated with the plant and equipment being cleaned.