Machine guarding is one of the most effective and longstanding control measures for occupational hazards. Sometimes safety people even get excited about them. Equally safety people, regulators and magistrates, get angry when the guards are left off.
One company in South Australia on 1 February 2010 received two penalties for similar hand injuries that occurred only days apart in 2007. According to the SafeWorkSA media release on the sentence:
“The incidents happened on the 7th and the 11th of September 2007 and each involved workers having their hands trapped in unguarded machinery.
In the first incident, a 36-year-old male worker was injured during contact with the moving rollers of a printing machine as he attempted to remove loose paper.
The court heard that the guard had been removed for cleaning on the day and not replaced, but also that the danger had been identified ten months prior in a formal safety analysis, but nothing had been done to interlock the guard to cut the machine’s power when removed.
In the second incident, a female employee suffered a hand injury when trying to remove loose paper from a heat operated shrink wrapping machine.
SafeWork SA submitted that inadequate guarding was a key factor in this incident also, and in both cases neither worker had been made aware of safe operating procedures for the machines.”
In one judgement, Justice Lieschke noted that the company, Detmold Packaging, had been prosecuted 18 years ago over an incident with an unguarded machine “which caused a severe laceration and crush injury to a hand resulting from a failure to guard plant.”
The defendant operated an incomplete and poorly monitored risk assessment program for its machines. Hazards of unguarded machines had been identified but remedial action had not occurred for months. There was a standard operating procedure but the machine operators were not aware of it and anyway, an SOP is an inadequate control measure if the risk assessment process were to follow the hierarchy of controls. Guards were left off the machines and injuries occurred.
The industrial magistrate said that
“Acceptance of a known risk, (or failing to attempt to identify hazards), as a cost saving measure is completely unacceptable.”
He went on:
“The offence is a serious breach of the Act with an aggravating feature of its failure to respond to its own recommended control of the identified hazard and risk.”
These two prosecutions are classics illustrations of the importance of guarding but more important the necessity to maintain any safety management systems that one has introduced. No matter how much money is allocated at controlling a hazard, if the process is not monitored and safety measures enforced, the money spent is almost a waste.
An increasing trend with Justice Lieschke’s sentences is the application of non-pecuniary penalties, an option available in most Australian States but rarely applied.
In the sentences of Detmold Packaging Pty Ltd, Justice Lieschke said
“In view of the circumstances of this offence and of the previous offence it is appropriate for the defendant to notify all people that continue to work for it about the offence, its consequences and the penalty imposed. Accordingly pursuant to s 60A(1) of the Act I order that within 7 days Detmold provide a copy of this decision to each of its South Australian employees, whether a permanent, casual or deemed employee directly engaged under a contract of service with a third party.”
Justice Lieschke has previously set such a penalty only last week in the judgement – Hillman v Acquista Investments Pty Ltd and Veolia Environmental Services (Australia) Pty Ltd  SAIRC 7
The industrial magistrate should be applauded for applying a penalty that actually improves safety for the rest of the employees and contractors. It would be interesting to see if such a penalty would be applied to a company listed on the stock exchange and whether shareholders would be notified of the penalty.
The action against Detmold Packaging also illustrates a gap in modern business management strategies. Detmold is a signatory to the National Packaging Covenant – an environmental pledge to reduce wastage. Such covenants should be broadly supported. Most larger companies need to have an integrated approach to safety management. This may be through risk management, integrated safety management, even SQE (Safety, Quality, Environment) or any number of basic management combinations.
The National Packaging Covenant misses the opportunity to minimise duplication of management processes by not being amended to incorporate OHS elements. There are almost more similarities than differences through modern management systems and it is noted that Detmold’s website says it is certified to ISO9000 Quality Management Standard. (This may not have been the case at the time of the two incidents in 2007) It would be interesting to know what the quality auditors made of a safety document that was posted on a machine but not applied, explained or enforced.
There are many corporate commitment schemes, pledges, promises and targets that modern executives seem to like. Rather than a framed parchment on the board room walls, action at the shopfloor would be a much more significant and effective legacy but that seems rarely to be taught in modern business schools.