Worker loses finger, food manufacturer fined $60,000

Food manufacturer Healthy Snacks Australia has been fined $60 000 after an employee had a finger partially severed by a machine.

The Australian food producer plead guilty in the Moorabbin Magistrates’ Court this week to one count of failing to provide a safe system of work and proper instruction, training and supervision.

The worker had crawled under a machine that was used to manufacture and pack health bars, to clean its rollers.

The court heard that crawling under the machine to remove the guarding was common practise in the factory.

During the time the worker was cleaning the machine, it would remain on so that the rollers could be cleaned.

But on 29 June 2010, when the worker was performing the task, the cloth she was using became stuck and as she tried to pull it out, her other hand, which was resting on the machine so she could balance herself, became stuck between the rollers.

The moving machinery severed part of her middle finger.

The investigation by WorkSafe determined that Healthy Snacks Australia failed to undertake any risk assessment associated with the use of the machine, or ensure employees did not clean the machine while it was operating and while it was possible to access dangerous moving parts.

It also found the company did not provide any standardised or consistent training and supervision to workers who cleaned the machine or provide employees with standard operating procedures, including cleaning procedures for the machine.

It received a $60 000 fine without conviction and was ordered to pay an additional $3430 in costs to WorkSafe.

WorkSafe’s Manufacturing, Logistics and Agriculture Acting Director, Mary Chojnacki said the company had failed to ensure some fundamental requirements.

“A serious injury and a $60,000 fine could have been prevented if appropriate steps were taken to adequately guard and supervise the machine while it was being cleaned, something that would have cost far less,” she said.

“If there are instances where machines can operate without guarding, employers need to fix this as a matter of urgency. Not doing so is just not worth it.”

“Despite the obvious risks it is unfortunately all too common for machines to be kept running while they’re being cleaned. Every time that happens, there is a risk of serious injury or death.”

“WorkSafe takes incidents like this seriously.

“In this case, the company was investigated and charged in just eight months.”

“This sends a strong message to all employers that safety must be a priority.

“The consequences can be not only immediate for the worker but for businesses, an unwanted court appearance and potential fine.”

“WorkSafe actively enforces the law. Since July last year, 79 prosecutions have commenced compared with 56 in the previous corresponding period.”

Last year WorkSafe’s Michael Birt told Food Magazine that the food industry is a major hotspot for injuries and accidents.

“The food manufacturing industry is one of the targeted industries in 2010, 11 and 12, because it isn’t getting there,” he said.

“We’re running a campaign this year targeting eight high risk industries, and food manufacturing is one of the eight, along with other related industries road ytansport and warehousing and storage.”

And just last month a spokesperson from WorkCover NSW told Food Magazine that the rates of incidents does not seem to be declining.

“Generally speaking often there is a reluctance from an organisation to want to engage with any regulators, whether its WorkCover or another food industry body,” the spokesperson said.
“But we strongly encourage companies to be proactive.
“We would much prefer they be proactive and talk to us so we can come out there and give our input.

“I know it is difficult and we are always working strongly to change the perspective of what we do and we are very keen to engage with industry.

“I think it’s a bit back to front.

“If an organisation could cause someone to be seriously injured or worse, killed, it is only in their best interest to talk to us and avoid any injuries and the costs and damage to reputation that would cause.

“It’s all about gaining competitive advantage these days between companies so people need to embrace safety and be proactive about it.”