Vic company fined after worker loses thumb - 14.11.23

Tank manufacturer Polymaster Pty Ltd has been fined $65,000 after a worker’s thumb was amputated following an incident at its Swan Hill factory. The company pleaded guilty to a single charge of failing to provide or maintain a system of work that was safe, without risks to health. The company must also pay $16,000 in costs.

The incident occurred in March 2021, while the worker was using an industrial wide belt sander while wearing leather rigging gloves. A flat metal bar she was holding to the sander was dragged downward, trapping her left hand between the rotating belt and a resting plate. The worker couldn’t reach the emergency stop button and had to call out to her supervisor to stop the machine. When the worker removed her hand she noticed her left thumb had been amputated at the second joint and ground down by the belt. She was airlifted to hospital but attempts to reattach the thumb were unsuccessful.

An investigation by WorkSafe Victoria found that the worker was not aware of a specific safe work method statement created for operating the machine, that stated no gloves or loose clothing that may become entangled should be worn while using the sander. WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said the company’s failure to ensure a safe system of work had needlessly caused the worker considerable harm, adding that there is no excuse for failing to have a safe system of work in place and ensure that workers are adhering to it, when the risks of working with machinery are well known.

“This incident and the life changing injuries suffered have had a significant traumatic impact on this worker,” Beer said.

To manage risks when working with machinery, WorkSafe Victoria advises employers to regularly service and inspect machines and equipment, and train staff in the safe operation of machines and equipment, with written procedures provided in the worker’s first language. All hazards must also be identified and the risks associated with them assessed to be eliminated or isolated.

WorkSafe Victoria also encouraged employers to implement safe operating procedures in consultation with employees and health and safety representatives. Safety guards and gates must be compliant and fixed to machines at all times, with signs placed on or near machinery to alert employees to the dangers of operating it.