Campaign targets workplace safety during maintenance

SEPTEMBER 30 1999, at a Victorian fertiliser plant, Alan Newey was applying a drying agent to a running conveyor belt to prevent it slipping when something went wrong.

SEPTEMBER 30 1999, at a Victorian fertiliser plant, Alan Newey was applying a drying agent to a running conveyor belt to prevent it slipping when something went wrong.

“There was a big bang, like a fire-cracker going off. I thought nothing of it and kept working. It was only when I reached out with my right arm and discovered that it wasn’t there that I realised what had happened,” Newey said.

Incredibly, he then climbed down a 5m ladder from the conveyor belt platform and called for help. He clearly remembers the look of shock in the eyes of the first workmate who came running.

Newey spent a month in St Vincent’s Hospital enduring five operations. Despite the efforts of surgeons, they were unable to re-attach his arm.

Incidents like these are behind a new WorkSafe campaign targeting the maintenance, repair, installation, service and cleaning (MRISC) of machinery and equipment.

Serious accidents like Newey’s make up nearly 60% of around 8300 machinery-related injuries in Victoria’s manufacturing industry in the past year. In the same period, nine people died in incidents directly related to MRISC tasks.

The project highlights the need to plan and effectively supervise MRISC tasks to prevent serious injuries and fatalities.

The organisation is holding workshops in Melbourne and throughout Victoria until the end of June 2008.

The Director of WorkSafe’s manufacturing, logistics and agriculture program, Trevor Martin said the briefings would give managers of MRISC tasks a better understanding of how to plan these jobs and the importance of consultation and supervision. “The process does not have to be over-complicated, but robust and practicable.”

The factors that lead to Newey losing his arm are not unusual. The conveyor was inadequately guarded, there had never been an assessment of how maintenance was to be done, nor had a safe operating procedure been developed.

Employees who did this work were not supervised and learned how to operate the machine on the job from others. All operators faced the same risks and Newey.

Legal proceedings found the company was liable and was prosecuted and fined $90,000.

The campaign is supported by Victoria’s State Coroner, Graeme Johnstone, who sees the result of many incidents related to maintenance work.

He emphasises the need to carry out a job safety analysis, ensure adequate lockout procedures are in place and that employees are sufficiently trained and supervised.

“Coroners rarely see genuinely new or unusual factors resulting in deaths at work,” Johnstone said.

“While the time and place of a death at work cannot be predicted, if you fail to have and follow strict hazard identification and risk management procedures, a company or sole operator runs the real risk of a death or serious injury during maintenance.

“If the basics are not considered before a job begins the potential for something to go wrong rises. Excuses such as insufficient time or taking a short cut are no use after the incident has occurred.”

Martin said it was common for employers to consider the potential hazards associated with machines in normal use, but not when it was undergoing repairs or maintenance.

“Just because a machine may be risk-assessed to be safe for an operator does not mean it is safe for the person performing maintenance, servicing or cleaning that machine.”

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