Midland Bricks fined $70k for a ripped-off arm

WorkSafe WA has released a statement detailing the prosecution of Midland Bricks over a worker had his right arm and shoulder torn from his body by a machine in 2006.

Midland Bricks was fined $A70,000 over the incident.

The factors involved in this incident include the following familiar issues:

  • pinch points
  • machine guarding
  • interlocks
  • emergency stop buttons
  • supervision
  • documentation.

The statement reads

“In May 2006, the labour hire employee was working in one of the factories at Midland Brick’s Jandakot premises. His job required him to assist an operator in ensuring that paving bricks were properly produced, including cleaning built-up product from the machinery.

When checking the material conveyor at around 9.00pm, the employee noticed that the machine was not working properly because product had built up around a roller.

When he was in the process of cleaning the machine, it restarted and his right hand and arm were drawn into the pinch point of the conveyor, tearing his arm and shoulder from his body.

There was no emergency stop button or any other method of stopping the machine at the pinch point. The man staggered unaided to the control room.

The machine had numerous points where two moving parts met and created a pinch point into which hair, clothing or limbs could be drawn.

Some of the guards were not adequately attached to the machinery, and were held on with plastic cable ties, hung on clips or had missing bolts.

The factory’s employment documentation stated that workers should check that all guards on the machinery were in place prior to each shift. Despite this documented requirement, it was not supervised and Midland Brick had never ensured that workers were checking the guards and keeping them in place.”

It must be hard for OHS regulators to say something new and interesting when the worker’s injury is of a very familiar type and the equipment safeguards are so basic and established, just not at this particular workplace.

WorkSafe WA Commissioner Nina Lyhne is quoted as saying

“It is obvious that a safe system of work in this factory for the guarding of machinery was at best hit-and-miss, and this created an extremely hazardous situation….. A very short time after this incident, a contractor placed new guards on the pinch points of the material conveyor. It was practicable for Midland Brick to have made these changes before this incident could happen, which might have spared the worker a great deal of pain and suffering.”

The impact of the incident is understated by the Commissioner.  The loss of an arm is a very significant life-altering event.

Too often we hear that it took a serious injury or a death for a company to put in place basic safety equipment, often what should have been on the plant in the first place.

According to the Midland Brick website, the company began in 1946.  Significantly it is part of the Boral Group, a large building product company that has well-established safety management systems.  In fact Midland Brick says

“For the purposes of AS/NZS 14001 and AS/NZS 4801 Midland Brick, a member of the Boral Group, complies with all Boral Policies including Boral’s Health & Safety Policy and Environmental Policy.”

Amongst other elements of the 2007  Boral Health & Safety Policy are the following commitments:

  • “Demonstrate commitment and leadership through all its managers.
  • Work to eliminate hazards and practices that could cause incidents, injuries and illnesses.
  • Utilise the framework of the Boral H&S Best Practice Elements, together with Australian Standards 4801 and 4804 – OHS Management Systems, US OSHA guidelines, or equivalent country safety standards, to integrate health and safety into business management systems and to achieve the highest standards of health and safety.
  • Comply with all applicable health and safety acts and regulations, as a minimum.
  • Train and develop our employees to ensure they have the necessary skills and knowledge to work safely and to contribute to ongoing improvements in safety performance.
  • Involve and consult extensively with all people who work for the Company in identifying, assessing and controlling workplace hazards and in reviewing health and safety performance.”

Reading this list explains why it does not take long for OHS professionals to become cynical about corporate commitments to health and safety.

Clearly, compared to its own corporate obligations Midland Bricks

  • did NOT work enough to eliminate hazards
  • did NOT achieve the highest standards of health and safety
  • did NOT comply with OHS laws
  • did NOT train all their staff to work safely
  • did NOT consult or involve their workers enough to identify workplace hazards.

WorkSafe WA did its part in prosecuting an unsafe company over a serious workplace injury.  Now let’s see what action Boral takes against Midland Bricks for non-compliance with its corporate ideals and safety policies.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

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