QLD: business fined after worker’s palm severed by meat slicer

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Wednesday, 23 February, 2022 - 12:00
Incidents & prosecutions
South Australia

Using an unguarded meat slicer has cost an individual running a meat service delivery business in Queensland $70,000 and its two partners $25,000 each in fines for exposing workers to a risk of death or serious injury.

The partner in the Acacia Ridge business faced the Richlands Magistrates Court for sentencing for a Category 2 charge under Queensland’s Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

The unincorporated family-owned partnership supplies meat to Queensland restaurants. As part of the business, workers prepare the meat by using a slicing machine to cut bulk meat into portions prior to packaging and delivery.

In January 2018, a new meat slicer imported from China was put into service, with all buttons, information and instructions written in Chinese. No risk assessment was done, no policies or procedures were developed for its safe operation, and while there was a guard on the front, it did not have one on the rear.

In August 2019, a male worker who’d been employed by the business for only a month, and previously operated the unguarded meat slicer without incident, had his hand completely severed at the palm when the blade came down onto his right hand.

The 23-year-old was transported by ambulance to the hospital, where his hand was successfully reattached. However, he subsequently needed ongoing physiotherapy.

The worker had previously told the defendant the slicer was not cutting properly. The defendant then removed the front guard and outer casing of the machine while adjusting the blade.

Unable to refit the guard, the defendant simply instructed the worker to not put his hand in front of the machine. Workers were also taught to use a stick to remove the meat from the slicer.

A workplace health and safety investigation found that immediately following the incident, another of the business partners located the guard in the kitchen and sought assistance from another person to refit it.

The defendant admitted he had trained the injured worker, he knew how dangerous the blade was, and that he could not remember when he took the guard off but had forgotten to put it back on.

Magistrate Stuart Shearer took into account the plea of guilty and that all character references spoke highly of the defendant. While noting the defendant had endured some stress following the incident, Magistrate Shearer added the suffering the defendant has experienced pales in comparison to that of the injured worker, who would be reminded of the incident every time he looks at his hand for the rest of his life.

His Honour found the risk was obvious and the onus was on the defendant to ensure a safe workplace, stressing the importance of compliance with the law in order to ensure those who work for you do not go home injured (or not at all).

The defendant was fined $70,000 and ordered to pay costs of almost $1600. No conviction was recorded.

Last September, the other two business partners were each fined $25,000. One of them was also fined an additional $2,000 for failing to preserve the incident site in relation to his actions in refitting the guard.