Category: injured worker

An unguarded moment costs company $75,000 

September 2017

Four items feature regularly in workplace health and safety accidents – forklifts, ladders, quad bikes and angle grinders. Today, we feature a serious accident cause by an unguarded angle grinder. Mr Steven Zappia, an employee of Carroll Springs Pty Ltd (Carroll Springs), was using an unguarded angle grinder with an oversize disc when he was struck on the left shoulder and face by the cutting disc, causing an 8cm long gash on his face and a fractured cheekbone. When the accident occurred, in May 2015, Mr Zappia was beneath a Toyota Landcruiser removing metal brackets with the angle grinder in order to fit a new suspension spring kit. He was sitting down on the ground with his arms outstretched at approximately head height. He was wearing safety glasses and was holding the angle grinder approximately 40 cm in front of his face when the angle grinder either kicked back or the disc shattered. The impact caused a deep laceration (in some areas down to the bone) on the left side of Mr Zappia's face and a fractured cheekbone. The cut ran from the corner of Mr Zappia's eye to the bottom of his cheek.He was taken by ambulance to hospital, where he underwent surgery on his facial wound. Mr Zappia returned to work approximately four weeks later on a graduated work plan. He resigned from the company later that year. The angle grinder The angle grinder was meant to be fitted with a cutting disc no larger than 125mm diameter, but was fitted with a 150mm disc, which was rated for a slower speed (10,200rpm max). The grinder had a safety label on it stating to use accessories rated at least 12,000 min/RPM.) The larger disc could be fitted because the grinder’s guard had been removed by a former employee, before Mr Zappia had begun working for Carroll Springs. Mr Zappia testified that he did not know where the guard was located. He also said there were no 125mm discs for the angle grinder in the workshop at the time of the incident and that the 150mm disc that was on the angle grinder was the only option available for that grinder, although the workshop manager contested this statement.At the time of the incident Carroll Springs had not developed and implemented a safe system of work for the use of angle grinders or how to select the correct grinding or cuttings discs for angle grinders. Also, manufacturer's instructions for the angle grinder were located in a drawer in the supervisor's office at the premises and were not readily accessible to workers. Prior to the incident the company conducted general inspections of the workplace every two to three months to identify safety hazards but did not include an individual inspection of each power tool. At the time of an inspection of 31 March 2015, the angle grinder was kept in a locked cupboard away from where the tools were normally kept and therefore was not inspected. Lack of safety management The company’s lack of a safety management system was criticised by the judge, including: Mr Zappia had not been instructed to use an appropriate disc when using the angle grinder; there was no risk assessments that identified using an angle grinder without a guard as being a risk; there was no risk assessment that identified using an inappropriately rated disc as being a risk; the appropriate cutting discs and the guard were available on the site, but in a locked cabinet. Employees should have been made aware they were accessible; the existence of the risk was known or should have been known; the risk of this accident happening was obvious; simple remedial steps were available which would have completely avoided the risk; and the risk was one of serious injury or death. Judge Russell said this was not a case where there was a momentary lapse in ensuring that safe working methods were followed. “Until this event, there was no adequate system of work requiring use of a guard and an appropriately rated disc in the angle grinder.” He found the offender’s level of culpability was in the upper end of the low range. The company’s owner expressed deep regret and remorse that the incident occurred and cooperated fully with SafeWork and continued to have an involvement with SafeWork through the Mentor Program and the Leadership Forum. Carroll Sprints, having a previous good health and safety record, was convicted and fined $100,000 (reduced to $75,000 for an early guilty plea) and was ordered to pay the prosecutors’ costs. The maximum penalty for the offence is a fine of $1.5 million. Learning from other’s mistakes Not providing a safe workplace can be costly, but it can also have other ramifications on the business if a worker is injured. Apart from hefty fines, output can be reduced or work can stop altogether. Morale can plummet and attracting or keeping the best workers can also be difficult if they believe your workplace is not safe or that you, as an employer, do not rate their safety highly. To avoid these potentially business-damaging scenarios, get your copy of the Health & Safety Handbook and read up on how you can improve safety at your workplace while fulfilling your health and safety obligations under the law. The following chapters, all written in plain English by the health and safety lawyers at Holding Redlich, can assist: S1 Safe Operating Procedures S5 Supervision of Safe Work D4 Duties of Employers T2 Training and Induction W4 Workplace Design These are just five of the 70-plus chapters you’ll find in the handbook, covering the A-Z of workplace health and safety. Each chapter has hints, tips, checklists and step-by-step instructions to help make your job easier. Order your copy of the Health & Safety Handbook today and put it to work at your business on an obligation-free trial. What do you have to lose?      

Year-to-date worker deaths by industry 

August 2017

Sadly, as at 2 August, 110 Australian workers have been killed at work this year. Overall, that number is up by eight deaths when compared to the same period in 2016. The Transport, Postal and Warehousing sector remains at the top of the table with the most recorded workplace deaths, with the majority being vehicle-related. Considering truck driving is described statistically as the most dangerous job in Australia, that comes as no surprise. Unfortunately, the sector has recorded 10 more workplace deaths than at the same time last year. In the previous year the industry recorded 60 deaths and already has reached 46. However, the industry is working hard to improve the safety of workers by introducing new chain of responsibility safety laws that address the areas of fatigue, speeding, load restraint, mass and maintenance. The construction industry, which involves many high-risk tasks, has recorded five more deaths than at the same time in 2016, up to 18. The farming sector (agriculture, forestry and fishing) has recorded a drop of six in the number of fatalities so far this year compared to 2016 (down to 23). Initiatives, such as Farm Week, which focuses on safety in the industry, and a large and ongoing campaign on quad bike safety, could be having a positive impact on workers and managers. The mining sector, which has for some time been in a leader in implementing worker safety, has recorded two fatalities so far this year, down one on last year’s figures.   Industry of workplace Total deaths 2016 Deaths 1 Jan 2016 to 2 Aug 2016 Deaths 1 Jan 2017 to 2 Aug 2017 Transport, postal & warehousing 64 36 46 Agriculture, forestry & fishing 41 29 23 Construction 30 13 18 Arts & recreation services 8 7 5 Mining (incl. oil & gas extraction, quarrying) 7 3 2 Electricity, gas, water & waste services 7 5 3 Other services 4 2 1 Administrative & support services 3 0 0 Public administration & safety 3 1 3 Manufacturing 3 0 4 Information media & telecommunications 2 2 0 Retail trade 1 1 1 Wholesale trade 1 0 0 Health care & social assistance 1 1 1 Professional, scientific & technical services 1 1 0 Accommodation & food services 1 1 2 Education & training 1 0 0 Financial & insurance services 0 0 0 Rental, hiring & real estate services 0 0 1 Total worker deaths 178 102 110 In which sector do your employees work? Regardless of whether they are involved in high-risk or lower risk work, are you doing everything practicable to keep your workers safe? Maybe some recent injuries or near-misses indicate that there are some processes you could be doing better? Perhaps there are some things you haven’t thought of that could be incorporated into policies to protect workers. That’s where our experts can help. They’ve already done most of the hard work for you. And they know their stuff. The Health & Safety Handbook, written in plain English by health and safety lawyers at Holding Redlich, is full of information, hints, tips, as well as downloadable templates and checklists to ensure you’re doing your best to protect your workers – while fulfilling the health and safety laws in your jurisdiction.Order your copy of the Health & Safety Handbook today on an obligation-free trial to see how you can put it to work at your business. What do you have to lose? The full report, Year-to-date 2017: Preliminary worker deaths by industry of workplace, is available at the Safe Work Australia website.  

A nod, a wink, a serious workplace injury and $925,000 penalty

March 2017

A mistaken case of making eye contact has caused serious injury to a worker and cost two companies $925,000 in financial penalties. The ACT Supreme Court heard that in May 2012, contractor Mr Glenn Sommerauer was operating an 8-tonne backhoe at a Huon Contractors subdivision development when he answered a call on his mobile phone from his daughter, informing him that her partner had died the previous evening. While Mr Sommerauer was engrossed in the distressing phone call, a Kuna Contractors’ employee, Tony Brekalo, approached the excavator no-go zone, not aware that the operator was talking on his mobile phone. Mr Brekalo, believing he had made eye-contact with Mr Sommerauer and had received a ‘reverse nod’ of acknowledgement, opened the excavator operator’s door. But the operator had not seen Mr Brekalo and his movements during the conversation with his daughter had been misinterpreted by Mr Brekalo as permission to approach. As Mr Brekalo went to open the cabin door, he was struck on the foot by the stabilising blade of the excavator, which was being lowered by Mr Sommerauer. Mr Sommerauer testified he had not seen Mr Brekalo. Mr Brekalo, a Kuna employee, sued Mr Sommerauer for damages, and the latter accepted that he had acted negligently in operating the excavator and lowering the blade while talking on his mobile phone, in breach of Huon's site rules. The parties settled on a damages sum of $830,000, plus $95,000 in costs, and Kuna agreed to contribute 20 per cent of Mr Sommerauer's liability to Mr Brekalo. In subsequent Court proceedings, Mr Sommerauer argued that Huon should be liable for the damages because its safety procedures contributed to the accident. The Court was told that Mr Sommerauer was under the direct control of Huon in that his work was allocated each day to him by the Huon supervisor. Mr Sommerauer testified he was aware of the safety protocols which had to be followed and that he had undergone an induction process. He said he was well aware of the protocol that there was a requirement no person was to enter an exclusion zone when plant was operating without making eye contact with the operator and all plant was to have flashing lights and reversing sirens. No phone rule Mr Sommerauer said he was aware of a rule that no mobile phones were to be used on site unless specific permission had been given to use in an emergency. Evidence given by Phillip Martin, a consulting engineer, said no person should approach an excavator unless that person had ensured there had been contact with the operator and an acknowledgment received of that contact and the machine had then been placed in idling mode. He added that the operator was meant to indicate to the other person it was okay to approach. Mr Sommerauer gave evidence that he had raised issues with the Huon supervisor where people had approached his machine when it was operating and he had not been aware of them. He was not sure if any action had been taken to cease that practice. Mr Sommerauer submitted that site rules devised and implemented by Huon were deficient in that Huon should have emphasised to all workers, such as Mr Brekalo, the need to receive an acknowledgment from the operator of the heavy machinery before approaching the machinery. Judgement time In making her judgement, Acting Justice Ashford said Mr Brekalo had told the Court he had made eye contact with Mr Sommerauer but that it would appear difficult in circumstances where Mr Sommerauer, in Mr Brekalo's evidence, was wearing chrome aviator sunglasses. The judge said: “To my mind, a ‘reverse nod’ could be almost any movement of the head. Perhaps he was stretching his neck or otherwise moving his head around.” “Common sense would dictate that some acknowledgment of the contact and indication of agreement to approach is reached. Thus, I accept that if there had been such a clear and obvious rule Mr Brekalo would have followed such a rule and this would have prevented any accident. I am satisfied Huon's site rules were deficient in that regard.” The judge found that Huon was liable for damages caused by a wrong on their part in accordance with section 21 of the Civil Law (Wrongs) Act 2002 (ACT) and that it was just and equitable and appropriate that a contribution is made by it. "I have come to the view that I should apportion the liability in the proportion of 40 per cent to [Sommerauer] and 40 per cent to [Huon]. There has already been a 20 per cent agreement in relation to [Kuna], and I make orders accordingly," Acting Justice Ashford said. Checked your safe operating procedures lately? Are your safe operating procedures lacking common sense? Would they stand up in Court if scrutinised? Are your workers and contractors familiar with your safe operating procedures? Perhaps they’re even ‘over familiar’ with them and have started taking shortcuts or workarounds? Do new workers or sub-contractors interpret them differently to how they were intended to be observed? Don’t risk workplace injuries and hefty penalties, get your copy of the Portner Press How to Develop a Safe Operating Procedure. Written in plain English by Health and Safety legal expert, Michael Selinger (author of the Health & Safety Handbook), this 18-page eBook explains what to include in your safe operating procedures and how to implement them effectively. Having safe operating procedures in place will help train your employees to work safely, help identify risks and hazards and help demonstrate to safety regulators that your company is committed to improving safety in your workplace. This handy resource reveals: a practical 12-step guide to developing your own safe operating procedure; 7 key reasons for developing safe operating procedures; 4 key elements to include in your safe operating procedure; 15 questions to ask yourself when determining the safety hazards of a task; and when you need to review your safe operating procedure. It also provides: a sample Safe Operating Procedure; a Hazard Register template; a Health and Safety Document Control Register; and a Training and Induction Record Sheet. Don’t delay. Get your copy today.  

Workers burned in separate kitchen clean-ups

January 2017

While you might ask your workers to wear gloves to protect their hands while cleaning up a kitchen spill, do you consider what type of shoes they are wearing? Obviously, non-slip, but what about their ability to withstand caustic chemical spills? Two NSW workers were injured in separate incidents after suffering severe chemical burns to their feet while they were cleaning up spills in commercial kitchens. Both workers admitted they were unaware they were cleaning up a caustic liquid and were wearing casual soft-soled shoes. The chemical was absorbed into their footwear and socks and it was not until the workers removed their shoes were they aware of their burn injuries, which were quite extensive. Severe burns can be relatively painless due to the damage they cause to the sensory nerves in the skin. This could explain why the workers were not aware of their injuries earlier. SafeWork NSW, which investigated both incidents, said highly caustic chemicals are found in automatic dishwashing machine detergents, oven and grill top cleaners, as well as some grease cleaners. Reminder for business-owners The agency reminded operators of restaurants and cafes about the hazards associated with working with chemicals and that they have a duty to inform workers of hazards and ensure they are protected from harm. SafeWork NSW said there were a number of contributing factors to the incidents, including: a failure by the businesses to conduct a basic risk assessment to identify hazards associated with chemicals used in kitchens; unsuitable footwear or Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) being worn by workers for the type of work environment; inadequate information and training for workers about chemical hazards and how to manage spillage incidents; Safety Data Sheets (SDS) were not sourced or supplied to workers to keep them informed about hazards and the relevant precautions; poor or non-existent spill containment for caustic chemicals; absence of spill management and reporting procedures; poorly maintained hazardous chemical register; and alack of injury reporting procedures. The agency recommends that all restaurants and hospitality businesses should start by developing a hazardous chemical register and then conducting a risk assessment of hazardous chemicals used in the workplace. If possible, businesses should eliminate these hazardous chemicals or substitute for less hazardous chemicals, says SafeWork NSW.N Jext, workers should be provided with PPE, instruction, training and supervision on the safe use, storage and handling of hazardous chemicals. Updated SDS’s should also be provided to all workers. Employers and workers should read and follow all instructions on chemical labels and apply appropriate control measures, such as dispensary devices and spill trays, are in place for hazardous chemicals at work. Finally, businesses should prepare and implement spill, injury and incident reporting and notification procedures. Need help meeting these requirements? The Portner Press Health & Safety Handbook is written by the legal experts at Holding Redlich with information that helps you meet all your legally required health and safety duties to your workers, regardless of which jurisdiction your business operates in. All chapters are written in plain English and include downloadable and editable templates, hints, tips and case laws to help you prepare your own documents, including safe work statements, hazardous chemical registers, reporting procedures and many more. Get your copy of the Health & Safety Handbook on an obligation-free trial … you’ll find it’s just like having a health and safety legal expert on your team.

Aussie icon fined $90,000 for worker injury

September 2016

A famous Australian business was recently prosecuted in a case that highlights the constant need to monitor safety and ensure staff do not try get around safety systems. The `shortcut` cost the company a $90,000 penalty. RM Williams Pty Ltd was fined $90,000 this month by the South Australian Industrial Court after it was told of an injury suffered by a process worker who was operating a heated logo stamping machine for the first time. The inexperienced worker crushed some of her fingers and received third degree burns. The court heard evidence that the manufacturer had failed to ensure that the interlock device on the stamping machine was operating. In fact, the supervisors of the staff were unaware that workers had found ways to overcome the safety features that the machine had in place. As such, new workers were being instructed in unsafe practices because they were designed to defeat the machine's safety measures. The prosecutor commented after the hearing that the conviction of RM Williams Pty Ltd reinforced the importance of industry managing the risks surrounding dangerous plant through the development of clear procedures and the provision of training and supervision. Culture of safety lacking In this case, the employer had failed to ensure a standard precaution was in place, that being an interlock device that would stop the machine from working when the guard was not in place. The real challenge faced by the business, however, was correcting an environment in which the workers were actively looking to bypass safety features and a culture where this was considered okay. So, the question for your organisation is broader than just whether there are proper guards in place and interlock devices are functioning. The question is whether there are unsafe practices in your business that are not only being tolerated but are actually be actively fostered by staff. This type of culture poses a far greater risk to an organisation than the inadvertence that might otherwise lead to an injury on some occasions. This is because it is a culture that is more likely to result in a greater number of incidents and a lack of frank disclosure about other safety concerns. Ask yourself - how will you determine today whether those sorts of practices are going on in your business? Will asking people be enough or will you need to observe practices? And if you are going to observe practices, how will you do this in a way that captures the `real` activities of your workforce. Unsafe practices hidden Auditing work practices in an organisation can be challenging, particularly if there is a culture of hiding the unsafe practices. To do this effectively, consider the follow: conduct random inspections of work practices; where possible, utilise surveillance devices or other computer data, like login details, that might capture or disclose a breach in the agreed safety practices; use the services of a WHS consultant to act as a 'new worker' to see what practices they are shown by existing operators, in a manner a bit like a `mystery shopper`; implement a zero tolerance policy for safety breaches so that the workforce is made fully aware that the organisation will not tolerate an indifference to safety; and discipline any workers that are found to be intentionally breaching safety processes. PS: Further in-depth help for creating a culture of safety in your workplace can be found throughout the chapters of the Health & Safety Handbook, including step-by-step advice and downloadable documents and templates. Written in plain English by the health and safety lawyers at Holding Redlich, the advice and documents make ensure you leave no stone unturned in your efforts to protect your workers and your business. Order your copy today on an obligation-free trial and see the difference that professional, legal advice can make to your workplace safety efforts.

Things that go bump in the night can cost $300,000

May 2016

If you haven’t conducted a risk assessment at your workplace for a while, this article might serve as the motivation you need. It was “pretty dark” outside at about 1:20am on 31 August 2012 when a night shift foreman was locking up for the evening. So dark, in fact, that after he turned off the lights of the smoko room, locked the door and turned to leave he failed to see a large metal box on the ground and tripped over it, falling and breaking his wrist. While the company the man worked for accepted primary liability, it alleged that the 47-year-old was negligent for failing to take precautions from an obvious risk of tripping on the metal box because it was a permanent fixture at the workplace. The company said the worker was guilty of contributory negligence in the order of 35 per cent for his failure to take account of the obvious risk of tripping on the metal box. But the worker disputed this claim, denying any liability and taking the matter to the District Court of Queensland. Contributory negligence The company alleged that the worker caused and/or contributed to the incident by his own negligence by: failing to watch where he stepped; failing to use the torch, effectively or at all, to illuminate his path of travel; failing to illuminate the area in which he was working with the headlights of the motor vehicle supplied to him by the company with a purpose of traversing the worker’s premises The court heard that over time the worker had adopted a process of locking up and turning off all the lights at the premises at the end of each night shift. This process included travelling along a familiar route adjacent to the smoko room, past a septic tanks pump and flow switch, which were covered by a metal box structure. The metal box measured about 700mm long, 520mm wide and 300mm high from ground level. It was fixed to the ground about 1150mm off the smoko room external wall and about 1550mm to the right of the smoko room doorway. It had a dark metallic grey surface and was fixed to a concrete pad surrounded by a dark grey/blackened ground surface in the foreground and a concrete surface in the background. On the night … After turning off the lights in the smoko room and closing the door, the worker turned and started to walk away from the smoko room. As he did that, he tripped on the metal box, lost balance and fell onto and injured his left wrist. The worker had undertaken the shutting down duties several days a week for about six months. His process and path varied depending upon the jobs undertaken, the number of staff, and whether areas were used each night. The court heard that there was little or no light spilling from those areas to the area that the worker sustained his injury. While the worker was unable to identify the particular torch he used that night, Judge Morzone said: “I have no hesitation finding that the torch available to the [worker] had a dim light and was inefficient. It would have remained inadequate to sufficiently light that area for ideal pedestrian access.” The company countered that it was critical of the worker’s aim with the torch in circumstances when he knew the obstruction (metal box) was there and he intended to walk around it. But the judge determined that once the worker had closed the smoko room door and completed his turn, the metal box would have been close to his feet and below his usual line of sight. Nor was it practical or reasonable that he would use the work vehicle lights. How could you not ‘see’ the box? Judge Morzone said the worker’s conduct was consistent with inattention bred of familiarity of the area and repetition of the task. The metal box created a risk, which was even more pronounced given the time of day, the end of shift task, inadequate lighting and poor equipment. However, these same conditions made the risk less obvious to a reasonable person in the position and circumstances of the [worker]. “In my view, he had developed a level of complacency, engendered by familiarity and repetition, but which was not incompatible with the conduct of a reasonable and prudent man.” “... the [worker’s] conduct amounted to mere inadvertence, inattention or misjudgement, and did not amount to negligence.” Therefore, the judge decided that the worker was not responsible for any part of the damage to his wrist and deemed the risk “not an obvious risk”. The big pay-out The worker underwent two operations on his wrist and medical experts testified that he may face further surgery and complications later, including pain, arthritis and loss of strength and movement. Prior to the accident the worker had been a ‘hands on’ supervisor carrying out a range of heavy physical tasks while also performing a supervisory role. He was awarded a total of $318,183.85 for damages, loss of earnings and future economic loss. Closer to home … Do your workers need a ‘wake-up call’ about safety in the workplace? Have they become complacent about possible dangers while carrying out their duties? When was the last time you consulted with them about hazards in the workplace? Subscribers to the Health & Safety Handbook can access chapter R3 to find a comprehensive step-by-step guide on how to conduct a risk assessment at their workplace – written by health and safety lawyers in plain English. This way, they can ensure they get the process right, and reduce their risk of a serious accident to their workers and any accompanying penalty. If you haven’t got access to this important information, here’s how to get your hands on a copy.