In March 2019, a worker was fatally injured after becoming trapped in a conveyor belt system at a recycling facility. It is not clear at this stage what caused the incident. Investigations are continuing.
Preventing a similar incident
Plant is a major cause of workplace death and injury in Australian workplaces. There are significant risks associated with using plant and severe injuries can result from:
- its unsafe use
- exposure to unguarded moving parts of machines
- falls while accessing, operating or maintaining plant.
Conveyors (including belt and auger/screw type conveyors) pose significant risk to workers when moving parts are exposed. Hazards likely to cause injury include:
- rotating shafts, pulleys, gearing, cables, sprockets, chains, clutches, or fan blades
- the run-on points of belts, chains or cables
- crushing or shearing points e.g. augers and slide blocks, roller feeds, conveyor feeds
- machine components that move, cut, grind, pulp, crush, break or pulverise materials.
Before accessing conveyors for maintenance, or cleaning a rigorous isolation, lockout and tag-out process needs to be carried out. An isolation and lock-out process includes:
- isolating the conveyor from all energy sources that can cause harm
- locking all the isolating units in the isolated position
- dissipating or restraining any stored energy that may give rise to a hazard.
If any type of guarding is removed for maintenance or cleaning:
- the guarding must be replaced before the machine is put back into operation and,
- the plant should not be able to restart unless the guarding is in place.
A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) has the primary duty under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that workers and other persons are not exposed to health and safety risks arising from the business or undertaking. This duty includes ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, the:
- provision and maintenance of safe plant
- safe use, handling, storage and transport of plant.
Higher order risk controls include designing the plant or structure to be without risks to the health and safety of any person. The elimination of potential hazards at the design or planning stage of a product enables a greater scope to design out hazards or incorporate risk control measures that are compatible with the original design and function requirements.
PCBUs should also consider engineering controls, such as the installation of plant guarding, and the suitability of the type of guarding that is used to prevent contact with moving parts. Guarding, which may be a shield, cover, or physical barrier, is essential to prevent workers coming into contact with moving parts. Guarding increases safety for operators and others involved in the normal operation, servicing and maintenance of machines. It is important for a PCBU to consult with workers as early as possible when planning to introduce new plant or change the way plant is used at the workplace. Consultation involves sharing of information, giving workers a reasonable opportunity to express views and taking those views into account when assessing risks before making decisions on health and safety.
A PCBU must also provide information, training, instruction and supervision to a worker that is suitable and adequate to the:
- nature of the work to be carried out by the worker
- nature of the risks associated with the work
- control measures implemented to deal with these risks
- competency of workers carrying out the tasks.
Since 2013, on average each year 386 workers’ compensation claims are accepted that relate to workers being trapped by moving machinery or equipment. Over forty per cent of these claims involve serious injuries requiring five or more days off work.
During the same period, we have been notified of 231 incidents where people were injured or were at risk of serious injury by a conveyor-type device. Sixty five per cent of these incidents resulted in a hospital stay. We have also issued 234 statutory notices relating to the risk management of such incidents.
Prosecutions and compliance
In 2015, a company was fined $35,000 after a worker sustained multiple fractures and soft tissue damage after his arm was drawn into a conveyor. The worker had observed a problem with the conveyor while it was being shut down. He was using his index finger to feel where the belt was grabbing at the tail drum of the conveyor when he was distracted by another worker. The guarding on the machine had also been removed for a repair and not replaced.
In 2014, a company was fined $35,000 following an incident where a worker’s hand was amputated after it was drawn into a nut harvesting auger. The worker was attempting to free a blockage with a stick, while the augers remained in operation. The stick became caught, and the worker’s hand was pulled into the machine.