Fixed machinery incidents, fatalities prompt reminder to put safety first

Monday, 01 August, 2022

Fixed machinery incidents, fatalities prompt reminder to put safety first

In May 2022, a worker sustained de-gloving injuries when his hand was trapped in a ‘curtain coating roller’ machine. At this stage of the investigation, it is unclear what the worker was doing, but it appears his hand was drawn in between the machine’s two rollers. In June 2022, a worker died after he was apparently pulled into the drive shaft of a conveyor. Early investigations revealed that he was cleaning a conveyor line with high pressure water; it appears the conveyor belt was removed, but the drive shaft was still rotating. Indications are the drive shaft caught the worker’s clothing and pulled him in. A week later, another worker suffered de-gloving injuries after his hand was caught in a stand mixer. Early investigations indicate that the worker grabbed the mixer shaft while it was still operational.

In a third incident that month, another worker suffered fatal head injuries after being trapped between a moving conveyor and another part of the plant; it appears the worker was carrying out maintenance on the plant while it was operating.

Fixed plant, including roller machines, conveyor and stand mixers, often have different types of moving parts. Hazards that are associated with fixed plant that are likely to cause injury include rotating shafts, pulleys, gearing, cables, sprockets or chains, along with belt run-on points and crushing or shearing points such as roller feeds and conveyor feeds. Machine components that process and handle materials or product also present risks to operators. Employers should also be wary of unexpected movement of parts operated by hydraulic, electrical, electronic or remote-control systems. Workers performing tasks such as operation, maintenance, repair, installation, service and cleaning on machines are vulnerable and have a higher risk of being injured or killed through the inadvertent operation of machinery or equipment they are working in, on or around.

Taking steps to manage risks is a condition of doing business in Queensland. WorkSafe Queensland advises employers to use the hierarchy of controls to help decide how to eliminate or reduce risks in their place of work. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest, serving as a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks. Employers must work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks, with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control. Unsafe use of exposure to unguarded moving parts of plant and machinery is dangerous and can lead to serious injury or death. A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must, under WHS legislation, ensure the provision and maintenance of safe plant. Higher order risk controls include designing plant or structures to be without risks to the health and safety of any person. Eliminating potential hazards at the design or planning stage of a product enables the incorporation of risk control methods that are compatible with the original design and function requirements.

Effective control measures for machinery are made up of a combination of controls. Guarding — physical or other barriers that increase safety for operators and others involved in the operation, servicing and maintenance of machines — can prevent contact with moving parts, control access to dangerous areas of plant and prevent ejected parts or cut-off from striking people. A permanently fixed guard can be used if access to parts of the plant requiring guarding is not necessary during operation, maintenance or cleaning. An interlock guard — connected to the plant’s operating controls so the plant can’t operate when the guard is open — should not be able to open or be removed until the moving parts have stopped. A fixed guard, which can only be altered or removed with a tool not normally available to the machine operator, can also serve as an effective control measure. A presence sensing system, designed to detect when a person (or part of a person’s body) enters the danger zone, can also serve as an effective guard, along with photoelectric light beans, laser scanners and foot pressure mats.

PCBUs must provide suitable tools to prevent the need for workers to enter the danger zone for clearing blockages. PCBUs are advised to lock out remote controls to ensure they cannot be activated when the worker is in the danger zone. Risks can be further minimised by implementing administrative and personal protective equipment (PPE) controls.

Implementing a lock-out/tag-out procedure to ensure the plant is isolated and de-energised from all energy sources prior to workers accessing the machine can help ensure that the plant cannot be inadvertently operated while workers are clearing blockages, performing maintenance or cleaning work. PCBUs must provide information, training or instruction to workers that is adequate in a way that is readily understandable. This includes safe work procedures with instructions on the correct use of guarding and other control measures, and how to safely access, operate and maintain the plant.

Workers who operate and perform work on plant should be competent or suitably supervised during training. PCBUs are advised to retain all operating manuals and instructional material provided by the manufacturer to correctly operate and maintain the plant. PCBUs must also consult with workers as early as possible when planning to introduce new plant or change the way plant is used. Workers should be encouraged to report hazards and health and safety problems immediately so the risks can be managed. Inspections of plant must be conducted in accordance with a regular maintenance system to identify any deficiencies in plant, adverse effects of changes in processes or materials associated with the plant, and any inadequacies in control measures that have previously been implemented. PCBUs should also encourage the use of gloves (if appropriate for the task), protective footwear, eye protection, hearing protection and high-visibility clothing.

The control measures put in place should be regularly reviewed to make sure they are effective. If the control measure is not working effectively, it must be revised to ensure its efficacy in controlling the risk.

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