Plastics manufacturer fined $545K for multiple safety failures

Friday, 08 March, 2024

Plastics manufacturer fined $545K for multiple safety failures

Plastics moulding manufacturer A & J Australia Pty Ltd has been convicted and fined a total of $545,000 after several safety breaches at its Laverton North plant left workers seriously injured. The incidents include two people suffering serious burns when a worker tried to extinguish a fire with liquid that turned out to be unlabelled methylated spirits, a worker sustaining a head wound and concussion after part of a machine fell on his head, and machinery lacerating a worker’s finger.

The company pleaded guilty to 16 charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The company was fined $75,000 in relation to the fire at the site in November 2020, after it failed to provide a safe system of work. It was also fined $250,000 for failing to ensure the safe storage of substances and $100,000 for failing to provide information, instruction and training.

The incident occurred when a mechanical engineer was using an LPG torch to melt plastic from the blades of a plastic granulator machine when it caught fire. Despite having fire extinguishers and a fire hose nearby, the worker tried to extinguish the fire using an unlabelled container of clear liquid — which was later discovered to be methylated spirits — igniting a fireball and causing severe burns to the worker and the sole company director.

An investigation into the incident by WorkSafe Victoria found that it was reasonably practicable for the company to perform a risk assessment of the granulator, including having a system of work for removing built-up plastic without using a naked flame. The company should also have had a senior manager provide a permit before a flame could be used. It was also reasonably practicable for the company to provide instruction and training on fire management and to ensure that containers of flammable liquids were stored safely.

The company was separately fined $75,000 for failing to ensure that persons other than employees were not exposed to health and safety risks after a machine operator was struck on the head, sustaining a concussion and a head wound that required stitches. In November 2021, the machine operator had stopped a blow moulding machine to remove a blockage, when a part weighing approximately 40 kg detached and fell 2.3 metres onto his head.

WorkSafe’s investigation found that the company should have installed fixed guarding to prevent access to hazardous moving parts and ensured that its machinery was regularly inspected, serviced and maintained to keep it in safe working condition. The company was fined $5000 for failing to notify WorkSafe of an incident and failing to ensure an incident site wasn’t disturbed, after a technician lacerated his finger in a machine and required surgery in July 2020.

The company pleaded guilty to a further seven charges of failing to comply with improvement notices, with an aggregate fine of $25,000, and three charges of failing to comply with a prohibition notice, with a $15,000 fine.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said maintaining machinery in safe working order and ensuring workers have the training they need to work safely are not negotiable, and any employer who fails to meet these obligations is putting workers at risk. “To have one person injured is a terrible outcome for any workplace — but to have incidents like these happen three times is absolutely unacceptable,” Beer said.

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