Qld issues safety warning after worker's hand partially amputated by saw
In April 2022, a worker suffered a partial amputation of his hand after it contacted a moving saw blade approximately one metre in diameter. Early investigations by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland revealed it was a breakdown saw used to mill trees. It appears the worker was cutting a large timber log on the saw when he accessed another blade to clear or dislodge an obstruction. In doing so, his hand came into contact with the moving operational blade, causing significant amputation injuries. Inquiries into the incident are ongoing.
Fixed plant, including breakdown saws, often have several different types of moving parts. The hazards associated with fixed plant include rotating blades, shafts, pulleys, gearing, cables, sprockets or chains, along with belt run-on points, chains and cables. Crushing or shearing points such as roller and conveyor feeds, and machine components that process and handle materials or produce, can also present risks to operator safety. Workers who operate, maintain, repair, install, service and clean machines in all industry sectors are vulnerable and have a higher risk of being seriously injured or killed through inadvertent operation of equipment they are working in, on or around.
Taking steps to manage risks is a condition of doing business in Queensland. PCBUs are advised to use the hierarchy of controls to help decide how to eliminate and 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, for a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks. PCBUs must work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks, with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control. PCBUs should provide or maintain plant and systems of work that are safe and without risks to the health and safety of workers.
Breakdown saws represent one of many hazards in a typical sawmill. A breakdown saw may include a single circular saw, a Canadian circular saw, a twin edger circular saw, a single band saw, a twin band saw, a frame saw, a swing saw or a trolley-mounted circular saw. Mechanical hazards associated with breakdown saws, from moving parts or ejected material or slips, trips and falls, can include cutting, crushing, shearing, entanglement, entrapment, impact and puncture.
Saw blades are the obvious hazard, but there is also injury risk from moving parts such as pulleys, drives, chains and hobs. To manage the risks associated with breakdown saws, the area around the saw should be fenced where practical and clearly signed to restrict access, particularly where the full view of the area is restricted from the operating position (the restricted access area should be defined by risk assessment). When guarding is used, the person with management or control of the plant must ensure that the guarding is a permanently fixed barrier, if access to the area of plant requiring guarding is not necessary during operation, maintenance or cleaning of the plant. If access to guarded areas is necessary during operation, maintenance or cleaning, the guarding must be an interlocked physical barrier that allows access to the area being guarded at times when the area does not present a risk and prevents access to that area at any other time.
If it is not reasonably practicable to use a permanent fixed barrier or an interlocked physical barrier, then the guarding is a physical barrier that can only be altered or removed using a tool. If it is also not reasonably practicable to use a physical barrier fixed in position, the guarding should include a presence-sensing safeguarding system that eliminates risk arising from the area of the plant requiring guarding when a person or any part of a person is in the area being guarded.
Flitches and pieces of timber (large and small) can be expelled from the saw. The zone where this occurs extends laterally from the centre of the saw at an angle of 7.5 degrees on each side of the centreline of the saw blade, in the direction of ejection from the blade(s). Projectile barriers and/or exclusion zones should be used to protect against this risk. PCBUs are also advised to consider providing and using an enclosed operator’s workstation clear of the breakdown saw.
Where an operator is located adjacent to the breakdown saw, precautions should be taken to protect the operator from constant flying sawdust and water spray, the risk of being struck by flying slivers of timber, the risk of being struck by heavy flitches and the increased risk of manual task injury if each flitch needs to be manually handled from a vertical to a horizontal alignment for cutting.
During operation, only the operator(s) may be in the restricted area around the breakdown saw. PCBUs must also ensure that operators have a safe unobstructed view of sawing operations both on the “onside” and “offside” (convex mirrors or cameras can be used). The saw operator’s controls must be capable of being secured to prevent inadvertent operation, with emergency stop devices for the saw placed within easy reach of the operator.
Risks can be further minimised by implementing administrative and personal protective equipment (PPE) controls. This can include installing a lock-out/tag-out system to ensure the plant is isolated from its power source and cannot be operated while clearing blockages or performing maintenance or cleaning work prior to accessing any parts of the machine. Administrative controls can also include the provision of information, training, instruction and supervision to workers who will use the plant; this includes the development of safe work procedures in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. PCBUs are also advised to consult with workers to obtain feedback on the plant and associated work processes and safe work procedures. Hard hats, gloves, protective footwear, eye protection, hearing protection and high-visibility clothing can also be used to reduce the risk of working with breakdown saws.
Adopting and implementing higher order controls before considering administrative or PPE controls will reduce the likelihood of a similar incident occurring. The control measures put in place should be reviewed regularly to ensure that they work as planned.
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