Rubber supplier fined $450K over workplace fatality - 27.5.24

A rubber product manufacturer based in Dandenong South has been convicted and fined $450,000 after a worker died when he was struck on the head by a machine component. The Elastomers Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to a single charge of failing to provide plant that was, so far as reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health. The 47-year-old worker was struck on the head by a moving part of a rubber extrusion processing line at the company’s Dandenong South factory in May 2021.

The worker had reportedly entered the danger zone beneath a moving part known as the ‘wig wag’, presumably to remove a blockage, automatically triggering a light curtain safety sensor which caused the machine to shut down. However, another operator at a different level, who could not see the worker, restarted the machine from the upper control panel, causing the wig wag to begin moving and strike him on the head. The worker received treatment from paramedics but died at the scene.

An investigation conducted by WorkSafe Victoria found that there was a gap between the light curtain that triggered the shutdown and the danger zone, which meant that it was not continuously broken while the worker was in the danger zone, making it possible to restart the machine. It was reasonably practicable for the company to provide guarding, including a physical interlock barrier, to prevent access to the danger zone while the machine was operating.

To manage risks when working with machinery, WorkSafe advises employers to identify hazards, assess the risks associated with them and eliminate or control those risks by isolating them or using an alternative. Employers are encouraged to ensure that safety guards and gates are compliant and fixed to machines at all times. Staff must also be trained in the safe operation of machines and equipment, with employers advised to provide written procedures in the worker’s first language.

Employers are also urged to implement safe operating procedures in consultation with employees and health and safety representatives. All machines and equipment must be serviced and inspected regularly, with signs placed on or near a machine to alert employees of the dangers of operating it.

WorkSafe Executive Director (Health and Safety) Narelle Beer called on employers to take all possible steps to reduce risks in the workplace, including proactively addressing potential issues.

“This terrible incident was entirely foreseeable and, tragically, a worker has paid for the employer’s lack of foresight with his life. Safety guarding on plant and machinery is crucial and it’s incumbent upon employers to provide workers with the highest possible level of safety, including proactively identifying risks and asking: are the control measures we have in place enough?” Beer said.