Company fined $2.1m over apprentice's serious head injuries

Friday, 17 November, 2023

Company fined $2.1m over apprentice's serious head injuries

Industrial component manufacturer Dennis Jones Engineering Pty Ltd has been convicted and fined $2.24 million and the company director has been placed on a five-year Community Corrections Order after an apprentice was seriously injured in Gippsland.

The company and its sole director, Dennis Jones, pleaded guilty to a single charge each under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The company was subsequently convicted and fined $2.1 million for recklessly engaging in conduct that placed a person in danger of serious injury. Jones was convicted and fined $140,000 for failing to provide or maintain safe systems of work by failing to take reasonable care as an officer of the company. He was also ordered to complete a community corrections order with a condition to complete 600 hours of unpaid community work.

In October 2021, Jones directed a 20-year-old apprentice to use a plastic sleeve to steady lengths of steel pipe that he was threading on a lathe at the company’s Morwell workshop. The apprentice was holding the plastic sleeve on the end of a pipe that protruded nearly 1.5 metres from the rear spindle of the lathe and was struck when the pipe bent and whipped. The apprentice was placed in an induced coma, airlifted to hospital and underwent surgery for serious head injuries.

An investigation by WorkSafe Victoria found that Jones should have been aware of the risk and ensured that covers were fixed to the lathe to prevent pipes that protruded from being threaded, or that a fixed steady was used to support such pipes and an exclusion zone established to restrict access to the danger area near the pipe.

To manage risks when using metal turning lathes, WorkSafe Victoria advises duty holders to install appropriate guarding to prevent employees from being struck by projectiles or becoming entangled in moving or protruding parts such as drive mechanisms, lead and feed screws, checks and the workpiece. Duty holders must also ensure that chucks, faceplates, couplings and clamps are compatible with the lathe and designed with no catch points, with worn or damaged tools removed.

When machining oversized workpieces, duty holders must ensure a bar feeder or fixed/travelling steady is used to support protruding pieces, or modify lathe speeds to ensure protruding pieces do not bend. Duty holders must also create a restricted zone around the lathe operator, with suitable barriers and signage employed to stop workers from unnecessarily entering the work area. Suitably identified controls, including an emergency stop button/pedal, must also be within easy access of the operator and away from the working zone. All operators must be appropriately trained and competent before beginning work, with employees equipped with appropriate PPE when operating or cleaning the lathe.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said overhanging work pieces are a well-known safety risk when using lathes. “It is incredibly frustrating that this employer had several control measures to eliminate or reduce the risk available but simply chose not to use them. The significant penalties for this company and director reflect the life-altering impact this devastating incident has had on a vulnerable apprentice who was at the very start of his career,” Beer said.

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