Waste recycling company fined $330K over 2016 incident in which worker’s arm was amputated - 12.11.20

A Bayswater waste recycling company has been fined a total of $330,000 plus an additional $234,000 in costs for gross negligence over an incident in 2016 in which a labour hire worker’s arm was amputated at the shoulder. The company was found guilty in the Perth Magistrates Court in July of gross negligence in failing to provide and maintain a safe work environment for a labour hire worker, and non-compliance with an improvement notice issued by WorkSafe. This week the company was fined $310,000 for the gross negligence offence and $20,000 for the improvement notice offence.

In January 2016, the worker had his arm amputated at the shoulder after it was caught in the crush point between a conveyor belt and a roller at the automated recycling plant. He had been working as a picker, and his job involved manually removing unsuitable items from conveyor belts and to clear blockages or jams in various machines. The investigation found there was no guarding around the crush points of the belt, and there was no lockout/tagout procedure followed to isolate the moving parts of the plant when removing blockages.

“This decision is important as it is the first time an entity has been found guilty of gross negligence under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the most serious offence possible under that Act,” said WorkSafe WA Commissioner Darren Kavanagh. “The obligation on WorkSafe as a prosecutor to prove that a company has been grossly negligent is particularly difficult.

“The company had a long history of flouting workplace safety laws. In September 2013, another worker at this plant was killed when an overloaded roof panel collapsed and crushed him.” Mr. Kavanagh said inspectors visited the workplace and found several conveyor belts were not guarded. They were then reassured that the plant was fully automated and workers were not present when the plant was running.

Another worker suffered a broken arm in February 2015 when his arm was dragged into a moving conveyor belt which again had no guarding.

WorkSafe issued an Improvement Notice requiring guarding to be installed on crush points of the belts, but this was not complied with despite several reminder letters being sent to the employer. The company Director advised that the notice had been complied with, but this worker had his arm literally torn off by an unguarded conveyor belt. The employer in this case has continued to disregard the safety of workers by allowing them to work with conveyor belts with unguarded crush points even after numerous incidents at that workplace. “

“The Magistrate stated in her decision that the disregard for safety was blatant and went well beyond mere neglect. “The Magistrate concluded beyond reasonable doubt that the company acted or failed to act in disregard of the likelihood of causing death or serious harm to a person to whom a duty was owed. “It’s worth noting that this incident occurred before penalties for breaches of workplace safety laws were increased in 2018, so the maximum fine available to the Magistrate for the gross negligence offence was $500,000. If this incident had occurred after October 2018, the maximum available fine would have been $2.7million, a significant increase.

“This complete disregard for worker safety is the precise reason we have gross negligence provisions in the State’s workplace safety laws, and this case should send out a strong warning to all employers to protect the safety of their workers.”  

Source: OHS Daily News