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Prosecution Details

Offender Darlex Pty Ltd
Trading Name Brushwood Australia


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Charge Charge Number Offence Date Date Convicted Regulation Section Penalty Provision Penalty Imposed Date Sentenced
1 RO5344/07 16 February 2006 13th November 2007 3A(3)(b)(i) $80,000.00 13th November 2007
Description of Breach(es)

Being an employer, failed to provide and maintain, so far as practicable, a working environment in which its employees were not exposed to hazards and by that failure caused serious harm to an employee; contrary to Sections 19(1) and 19A(2) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984.

Background Details

The accused is a manufacturer and retailer of brushwood fence panels, having premises located at Lot 101 Fifty Road, Baldivis ("the Workplace"). The accused was the employer of a number of employees including the injured person at the time of the offence.

The accused uses a custom (purpose) built item of plant to manufacture the brushwood fence panels ("the Panel Machine"). The Panel Machine is situated inside a workshed shed located in the Workplace.

The Panel Machine measures approximately 1.5 x 3 metres long and consists of a horizontal steel frame or bed where loose brushwood sticks are arranged by an operator at the front of the machine to form the brushwood fence panels. A hinged flap then closes down over the brushwood material to hold it in place while a hydraulic ram at the top of the frame is activated to horizontally press the newly arranged brushwood sticks into a tight mesh. The hydraulic rams are then withdrawn and more brushwood is inserted to fabricate more panel. The newly fabricated panel feeds out onto a large roller conveyor system at the rear of the machine.

A number of wires run over the top and underneath the panel. They are held together at regular intervals by way of "S" shaped clips. The clips keep the compressed brushwood material tight while the ram is withdrawn. A second operator was required to stand on top of the Panel Machine at its rear end and insert the clips as the newly fabricated panel emerged from the hydraulic ram. The second operator stood on narrow bars that were positioned over the roller conveyor system that fed out the newly created panel. The cycle of ramming and clipping the brushwood material was repeated several times to form the completed fence panel. It takes approximately 45 to 60 minutes to manufacture a complete fence panel this way.

Once the rams were turned on by the operator working at the front of the machine, the horizontal cyclical (forwards and backwards) motion of the hydraulic rams was automated. A complete cycle of the rams took approximately 50 seconds or so to complete.

The employees of the accused who operated the brushwood panel machine worked in two shifts (morning and afternoon).

On 16 February 2006 one employee who was on her first day of employment at the Workplace, commenced work at about 2.30 pm. She was working that day with another male employee. This employee was the operator at the front of the machine loading the brushwood material into the machine bed. The female employee was standing on top of the machine opposite the operator inserting the "S" clips. The operator was, like the female employee, starting his first day on the job.

The female employee and the operator began working together manufacturing fence panel. They contininued in this fashion for approximately 40 minutes when, during the course of inserting an "S" clip, the female's right hand became caught at a "nip point" between the hydraulic ram (moving towards her) and a fixed horizontal cross member that formed part of the frame in the bed of the machine. The cross member ran at right angles to the direction of the rams.

The female employee had no way of stopping the machine as there was no emergency stop button on top of the machine accesible to her. While there were two "stop buttons" located in the area where the operator was working, they did not have the effect of immediately stopping the machine when depressed. Rather, the rams completed their current cycle before coming to rest. The operator was unable to stop the Panel Machine and it continued to crush the female employee's hand.

The machine did have a "reset" switch, which could bring the machine to an immediate halt, however, this was located in a control box off to one side of the Panel Machine. The location and function of the reset switch was unknown to the operator. Shortly afterwards the sole director of the company, who was nearby, became alerted to the female employee's distress and reset the machine, releasing her hand.

An induction manual that warned of this risk of injury in relation to the Panel Machine did exist at the workplace at this time. However, neither the female employee or the operator had received any formal training or an induction in the workplace. Both were asked simply to observe persons working on the previous shift to see the tasks that they would then perform themselves. The hazards associated with the use of a hydraulic ram were not explained to either the female or male employee. The location of the switch to reset the machine was not explained to either of them.

Subsequently, the accused arranged for a platform to be installed over the area in which the second operator was required to stand on the Panel Machine. Over the part of the machine where the second operator was required to place their hand in order to insert the "S" clips, the accused installed a swing flap cover guard to cover the "nip points". The cover guard has attached to it an "interlocking" mechanism such that when the guard is in the "open" or "elevated" position (while the operator is inserting the "S" clips) movement of the hydraulic rams is disengaged.

The accused also placed a large sign in the vicinity of the Panel Machine warning of the dangers of entanglement, as well as providing a "stop switch" that can be pressed by the second operator of the machine.

It was practicable for the accused to have taken any or all of these measures prior to the time of the incident.

As a result of the incident, the female employee received a serious crushing and degloving injury to her right hand that caused her to be hospitalised for three weeks. Since her initial treatment she has had a nerve graft from the calf of one of her legs to attempt to repair nerve damage to her hand. Her hand requires continuing treatment. She will not recover full use of her right hand.

Outcome Summary

Plead Guilty

Court Rockingham
Costs $848.70

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