Employers urged to be wary of crush injuries in the workplace

Wednesday, 10 May, 2023

Employers urged to be wary of crush injuries in the workplace

WorkSafe Victoria has urged employers to address the risk of crush injuries in their workplace as new data highlights their toll on workers. Eight people have died after being crushed in Victorian workplaces last year, while the first workplace fatality of 2023 was a worker who was crushed between a boom lift and a roof purlin. WorkSafe accepted 461 claims for crush injuries in 2022, well in excess of one a day. Additionally, 341 of the incidents involved an injury to the hand or wrist.

Manufacturing was the most crush-prone industry, accounting for 127 claims, followed by construction with 87. Male workers aged 20–39 were the most likely to suffer a crush injury, with labourers (81), process workers (29), machine operators (27), motor mechanics (20) and truck drivers (19) their most common occupations. WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said workplace crush incidents are often horrific events that result in death or life-long consequences for workers, their families and communities.

Beer said that there is a variety of crush injuries and workplaces where they occur, but the one thing they all have in common is that they are avoidable if the risks are assessed and the right control measures are implemented. “This includes ensuring your workers are properly trained, supervised and equipped with appropriate PPE; that all machinery is well maintained and fit for purpose; and that safe systems and processes are in place. WorkSafe will prosecute any employer who fails to control the risks associated with crush injuries,” Beer said.

Last year’s incidents ranged from the hazard of hitting a finger or thumb with a hammer, to the unsafe use of modern machinery. Forklifts, stackers or pallet movers were involved in 38 crush-related injury claims. Five of the 2022 fatalities involved vehicles, including an auto electrician crushed when the tailgate of a truck collapsed on him, a worker crushed between an excavator and the tailgate of a truck and a telehandler operator crushed when a large steel door frame he was moving fell on him.

A worker whose head was crushed in a scissor lift was lucky to escape death, while another worker suffered significant internal injuries after a truck door swung shut, crushing his upper body. Also injured were: a bar attendant whose finger was crushed when a poker machine fell while they were removing money from it, a retail worker who sustained a crushed finger after trying to catch a falling mannequin, and a fast food worker who had their hand crushed in a rotating meat cooker.

In 2022, fines and costs totalling $2,274,284 were imposed against companies in 39 crush-related WorkSafe prosecutions where workers were killed, injured or put at risk. Charges against 20 employers for alleged breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act that resulted in crush injuries remain before the court and 48 matters are currently being investigated.

In 2022, a stone importer was fined $475,000 after a worker sustained fatal injuries after three stone slabs — each weighing up to 250 kilograms — pinned her against the interior wall of a shipping container in 2020. The company reportedly had no formal procedure on how to unload slabs. Another significant 2022 court penalty involved a stone benchtop company that was fined $325,000 after a worker was crushed and killed in 2020 by stone slabs weighing more than six tonnes in total. The court heard that the company failed to implement measures that would have reduced the risk of the slabs falling.

A waste disposal company was also fined $300,000 in 2022, after a worker was fatally crushed by an unroadworthy garbage truck in 2019. The court heard that the company failed to maintain a system of work to ensure that the truck was kept in a roadworthy condition. A concrete pipe manufacturing company was fined $275,000 in 2022 after a worker was fatally crushed in a concrete feed conveyor in 2018. The court heard that the manufacturer had no documented procedure in place for cleaning the conveyor belts.

Image credit: iStock.com/whitemay

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