Finger amputation and arc flash burns

SafeWorkSA has issued media releases on 20 January 2010 concerning two recent decisions from the Industrial Relations Court.  The first of these will a situation of bypassing a machine guard that is all too familiar to OHS professionals –

“a pair of vice grips had been attached to the finger guard at the front of the press, restricting its full range of movement and allowing access to the main moving parts during operation”.

The plant was a Hallbank 40 Tonne Front Press and the operator, Karen Carter, was unfamiliar with the machine.  Prior to this hearing there was a dispute of facts hearing concerning who set up the press prior to the incident.

The media release states:

“Trevor and Robyn Haydon (trading as T&R Manufacturing) were jointly charged and had already pleaded guilty to … failing to provide plant in a safe condition and appropriate instruction, training and supervision.

SafeWork SA’s investigation after the incident in September 2007 found that a female production worker had been asked to operate a heavy press used to manufacture brackets. During this task, a moving part made contact with her left hand resulting in serious injuries, which necessitated the amputation of four fingers from that hand.

Victim Impact Statements tendered to the court indicate that aside from the traumatic physical injuries, the employee has suffered disturbed sleep, flashbacks, anxiety and frustration due to restrictions in her social activities and ability to find “gainful employment”.

SafeWork SA submitted to the court that the machine was inadequately guarded. Most notably, a pair of vice grips had been attached to the finger guard at the front of the press, restricting its full range of movement and allowing access to the main moving parts during operation.”

The decision deserves considerable scrutiny as the situation is very common in industry and would make an excellent case study on supervision, machine guarding and accountability.  The sections concerning the disputed facts of the setting up of the press and the comments about instruction, a standard operating procedure and supervision, are particularly useful.

The second case involves injuries to a young electrical trainee, Jaycob Reynolds, who was burned by an arc flash and illustrates again an employer’s responsibility to new and young workers.  The media release says:

“The SA Industrial Relations Court heard how in April 2007, the then-17 year old male had been engaged as a trainee with the defendant for just three weeks. At the time of the incident, he was at a local business helping with work on a circuit distribution board.

When he used an insulated copper wire to touch a live part of a circuit breaker, an arc flash resulted which knocked the youth to the ground and burned his face, neck and arms. While he required hospital treatment, he has since returned to work and remains with the employer.

The court heard that on the day:

  • the trainee was supervised by a third year apprentice, not a qualified tradesperson
  • no job safety analysis had been done on the tasks the trainee was to do
  • the trainee had no understanding of the operation and design of the board and its components.

[Although he described the defendant as a ‘good corporate citizen”] Magistrate Ardlie … record[ed] a conviction.. saying:

“The incident … has served as a reminder to the defendant that although it may have systems in place, it does need to implement those systems at a practical level in relation to each work site it attends, especially given the environment in which it works.””

The Magistrate’s comments are important and should be heeded by all.  The decision document is extremely useful as it provides background to the issue of the worker as a trainee, the level of induction received but also the role of supervision.

Supervision is a perennial issue for line managers in determining when it is “safe” to let a new worker or trainee undertake work by themselves. This is an important moment in the lives of many young workers and should not be dismissed.

Of course, this issue not only relates to young workers but people facing new tasks as indicated in the first case above.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories business, government, law, machine guarding, media, OHS, safety, Uncategorized, welding, workplace, youngTags , , ,

One thought on “Finger amputation and arc flash burns”

  1. Damn, 3 weeks on the job. Hope there wasn\’t any serious damage, I\’m guessing not since he returned to work there.

    Guess those 2 people wont be making that mistake again.

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