The cost of doing nothing

It is always an option to do nothing.  The status quo can be very attractive but if one chooses to not control a workplace hazard that one is aware of then the penalty must be accepted and the responsibility accepted.

WorkSafe Victoria has provided details (not yet online) of a case where a director of a food manufacturing company did not act on a workplace hazard and that hazard resulted in

“…the worker’s middle three fingers …removed to the knuckle; and he suffered damaged nerves, constant pain, and restricted movement of his thumb.”

The sole director of the company, Dino Fabbris, was fined $A25,000 for

“…his failure to arrange for the shredder to be guarded – despite working on the factory floor on a daily basis and taking managerial responsibility for the company’s two factories.”

According to WorkSafe’s media release,

“the company, Fabbris Smallgoods, was separately convicted and fined $50,000… for failing to provide safe plant; and failing to provide information, instruction and training to employees.” (link added)

Background

“The incident occurred when a worker was required to work on the factory’s smaller shredder – which was not guarded, after previously being trained and working only on the larger shredder – which had an interlocking guard.

When the shredder became blocked with meat, the worker attempted to unblock it by pushing the meat with his hand, without switching the machine off.  His hand was caught in the blades of the shredder and dragged into the shredding machinery.”

Many would consider the above description of the event to illustrate a worker undertaking an “unsafe act”.  To many this would be enough to say that the worker was at fault because he put his hand into an active machine.  The work task was the same, only the machine was different.

The risk was increased as a result of inadequate training and information as shown by the company’s conviction above.

The company adequately guarded one shredder but not another.  Inconsistency of safety management created an uncertainty in the workplace when, as WorkSafe said in its media statement

“Failing to spend $5,000 on a guard for a meat shredder has cost a worker the use of his hand, and a company and director a total of $75,000.”

As the court case was conducted in the Magistrates’ Court, additional detail of the incident is not publicly available which is a great shame because this incident could illustrate many issues that continue to be debated in the safety profession – supervisor responsibility, worker responsibility, systems of work, instruction, training,  unsafe acts, cognition, workplace design, when is there enough supervision, and many other issues.

Regardless of the safety discussion the reality is that a worker was seriously injured when the injury could have been avoided.  To WorkSafe’s knowledge, the injured worker is not currently working which, some would say, is the biggest tragedy of all.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories business, executives, government, health, law, machine guarding, OHS, risk, safety, Uncategorized, WorkSafeTags , , ,

7 thoughts on “The cost of doing nothing”

  1. It\’s there and has to be dealt with, because there are few things
    worse than a pair of leaky waders. Do not make the mistake of cutting down the tree yourself or hiring a regular tree removal company to do
    the job. These baits range from chicken blood to
    old moldy bread being used.

  2. Kevin, a very large percentage of my work is based on humanity, the heart that is missing within the WorkCover system. To the very best of my knowledge I am the only person in Australia that does this work within the WorkCover industry. I understand the WorkCover system, however I understand the need for injured workers to be respected with dignity and allowed to be who they are regardless of their injury far better.

    Last Saturday saw me sitting on the kitchen floor of an injured worker because that is where she could rest better than anywhere else at. So we sat on the floor and discussed all the important things in our lives -our children and grandchildren-for 3 hours I got up and made tea and toast, then when it was time for me to go because I had another injured worker to visit, the injured worker gave me a packet of sunflower seeds to plant this coming spring.
    The seed packet showed the marked down price of 25 cents, but to me those seeds are without price and could never be bought from me.
    The seeds came from the heart of a very dear person who just happens to be an injured worker sharing a love of gardening with me- it really doesn\’t get much better than that.

  3. Threatened loss of job for refusing to use a piece of machinary that is unsafe is common, however getting low paid workers to lodge a formal complaint is so very difficult. And as per normal the workers are the ones who end up paying a very high price for the unsafe workplace.

    Yes the employer was fined, but the fine is nothing compared to the loss of a person\’s hand.
    There are non-dollar issues that this worker will face for the rest of his life, he will never be able to pick up a baby, or offer his fingers for a toddler to steady him\’herself as the precious little one learns to walk. He will never be able to pick and hold a bunch of flowers for his wife or mother. And so the list goes on, yes he will be offered an artifical hand, and all that medical science can do to ease the burden of the worker, and in time he will become quite proficent with the artifical hand, but it will have no feeling, no warmth, nothing that can ever come close to what he has lost.

    No amount of compensation paid will ever replace the hand, the touch, the understand conveyed by this mans hand.

    And it was all done in the name of effiency so as the employer could gain extra dollars.

    1. Rosemary

      I can\’t say what the employer\’s motivations were from the information available but the lesson I will be taking form the incident is that a person\’s quality of life has been substantially damaged for the want of a machine guard.

      Kevin

  4. Thanks for the response Kevin,

    If you look at the SA scheme and compare it to say income protection insurance where 100% of wages, plus super, plus medical is paid with a global redemption that is a minimum of 50% higher in most cases, then one has to wonder.

    I don\’t need data to understand the operations of businesses such as Fabbris Smallgoods I see them on a daily basis that is why I am somewhat strident in my criticism and have very strongly held views on the matter of employer responsibilities toward worker safety and health.

    These views are formed as a result of over 30 years of comprehensive consulting to small medium and large business on a broad range of general management issues, including manufacturing. By far the greater majority of employers see safety as a cost and don\’t seriously believe there is a benefit to their bottom line if they take it seriously (why do I need to take an analgesic if I don\’t have a headache). It is not productive and gets in the way doing something useful.

    If it is not fixed at the coal face we all pay, but the worst affected are the injured workers who in many cases have their lives severely affected and everyone else moves on leaving them in their wake to, in most cases, live a miserable existence. I know I see it every day and work with injured workers trying to battle their way though the broken system in South Australia.

    You have seen Rosemary\’s posts and I agree entirely with her sentiments and would add that who ever is in government in SA will do their utmost to place roadblocks in the way of genuine support for injured workers. Did they not get rid of the Employee Advocate unit attached to Workcover who did a great job of representing injured workers without fear or favor.

    The only chance injured workers will have in getting a voice is if independents hold the balance of power and are sympathetic to the cause of injured workers. We can only hope

  5. Hi Again Kevin,

    The issue relating to an employer once again denying a safe working environment at great personal cost to an injured worker who undoubtedly was possibly intimidated by the fact that he could face unemployment if he didn\’t use equipment as presented ??? is topical.

    This is where legislation is absolutely wrong by protecting employers and maybe fellow employees, who act in a careless manner and cause injury from any civil redress an injured worker may seek in an appropriate court, if the authorities find such parties culpable and they are convicted of an offense. We know the compensation payable to injured workers with a proven permanent loss is pitiful and once again I say the hip pocket nerve for the recalcitrant is the way to reduce accidents or should I say \”preventable injuries waiting to happen\”.

    Get back to the coal face and aim your resources there, maybe with the addition of a civil complaint system that protects the identity of of the complainant, yet provides a very clear avenue for identifying problem employers without risk of retaliation by unscrupulous employers. Sure some might say that disgruntled employees could be making malicious reports but an iron clad \”whistle blower\” protection requiring the identity of the complainant would fix that along with penalties for proven malicious reporting would go a long way to stopping that sort of behavior.

    It really shouldn\’t be all that difficult.

    1. As I think I said in the post, Tony, details are scarce so we have no data on the work history of the injured worker and so the threat of job loss is speculative.

      I would not say that compensation in Victoria is pitiful but compensation levels could always be higher in whichever jurisdiction. There could be an interesting comparison between compensation rates and what is currently being offered for a short term in relation to maternity leave.

      You\’re right it shouldn\’t be so difficult and in this case, $5,000 expenditure would have removed the hazard and made discussion of the machine risks academic.

      Kevin

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