Work injury could prevent woman from returning to employment

Published 19 Dec 2017

A metal packaging manufacturer must pay a $180,000 fine after committing health and safety breaches that put an employee's life at risk.

The woman was operating a power press that produced 107mm metal tops when she crushed three fingers on her right hand after it became trapped in the machine.

As a result of the accident, doctors amputated her middle finger and parts of her index and ring fingers. The incident occurred on April 21 2015 and the woman has not worked since.

She expressed doubt that she will ever return to the workplace, which could entitle her to a total and permanent disability (TPD) payout. TPD claims provide financial support to people who suffer injuries or illnesses that put an end to their career.

How did the accident occur?

The manufacturing press had several mechanisms in place to prevent operator injuries, including a safety screen, a mechanic interrupter bar and a pneumatic interlock system.

When the safety screen was in an upright position, it was impossible for the operator to activate the machine due to the mechanic and pneumatic safety measures.

However, prior to the accident, the machine had been used to pierce 19mm rectangle tops rather than clench the 107mm tops because a piece of equipment usually utilised for this task was out of order.

Switching the functionality of the machine required a changeover process that disengaged the safety mechanisms. Once the other machine had been repaired, the press was reverted to its regular purpose.

The woman's line manager completed the changeover, but he forgot to reinstall the interrupter bar or reconnect the pneumatic interlock. This meant the machine could be operated when the safety screen wasn't down, which subsequently led to the woman trapping her hand in the press.

Why was the business at fault?

Judge David Russell highlighted a number of the organisation's failings, including:

  • Not requiring line managers to conduct 'challenge testing' - a five-second procedure that would have shown the machine was unsafe;
  • Not requiring line managers to complete documentation confirming safety mechanisms had been checked prior to work; and
  • Allowing an employee with only seven weeks' experience to use a machine, despite not having the necessary training.

Judge Russell deemed the breaches in the mid-range of seriousness and fined the organisation $240,000, which was reduced by 25 per cent because the firm pleaded guilty.

Have you suffered a serious injury during your employment that could prevent you from ever working again? Please contact Gerard Malouf & Partners Superannuation Lawyers to see if you are eligible to make a TPD claim.

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