Manufacturer fined $300,000 after apprentice severs fingers

Friday, 10 March, 2023

Manufacturer fined $300,000 after apprentice severs fingers

Wangara sheet metal manufacturing business Unique Metal Works Pty Ltd has been fined $300,000 and ordered to pay more than $6400 in costs following an incident in which a 17-year-old apprentice had seven fingers severed. The company pleaded guilty to failing to provide and maintain a safe work environment; it was not alleged that the company’s failures caused the apprentice’s injury.

The company specialises in the fabrication of stainless steel, aluminium and general sheet metal products and laser cutting, and in July 2019 a 17-year-old apprentice was using a guillotine to cut galvanised sheet metal. The young man was five months into his apprenticeship and had done general cleaning and worked in the press brakes and guillotining sections of Unique Metal Works. The guillotine he was operating had a fixed metal guard in place which had eight protection indents evenly spaced along it to allow a worker to push a narrow strip of sheet metal further into the guillotine.

On the day of the incident, the apprentice was able to bypass the guard and push his hands past it and into the blade operating area; the blade was activated by a foot pedal and, as the apprentice inadvertently stretched his hands past the guard, he also inadvertently pushed the foot pedal and activated the cutting blade. The blade severed seven of his fingers, though all but the tip of one finger were able to be re-attached.

WorkSafe Commissioner Darren Kavanagh said the case is a reminder of the importance of pre-start checks of all machinery in workplaces. Kavanagh added that the company did not have a documented operating procedure in place to ensure that a pre-start was carried out before this machine was used. Although the company carried out monthly visual checks of each piece of equipment in the workplace, the checks did not include inspecting the protection indents in the fixed metal guard on the guillotine.

“The worker’s fingers should have been prevented from accessing the blade operating area and a pre-start check of the machinery may have identified a problem before this unfortunate incident could happen. The guard on the guillotine was a fundamental safety measure, but the company’s checks failed to ensure that it was in good order and undamaged before this incident happened. The company did provide some of the required training and supervision for workers, and it did take steps immediately after this incident to replace the guard and implement new comprehensive procedures for checking equipment,” Kavanagh said.

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