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SA: company fined $350,000 over hay press double leg amputation

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of members. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Date: 
Monday, 22 March, 2021 - 12:00
Category: 
Incidents & prosecutions
Location: 
South Australia

A hay processing and exporting company in South Australia was recently fined $350,000 over an incident in which a worker’s legs were amputated below the knee in a hay press.

In 2017, a worker was standing on the mezzanine platform of a hay press attempting to clear residue from the press with what is referred to as a ‘metal bale’. The metal bale was being manoeuvred into position on the press’s weigh table when it became stuck.

The worker attempted to dislodge the metal bale from behind the platform’s guardrail and fell approximately three metres onto the weigh table below.

The weight of the worker on the metal bale activated the operation of the hay press, which amputated both of the worker’s legs below the knees.

SafeWork SA identified that the incident could have been avoided if the business had conducted an assessment of the risks associated with the plant and implemented adequate engineering controls, such as guarding and sensors, and had developed safe systems of work for the clearage of residue.

It was further identified that the hay press had not been isolated as the worker was moving the metal bale in preparation for clearing the residue.

The company, Gilmac Pty Ltd, was charged for failing to:

  • undertake a risk assessment of the hay processing plant
  • provide appropriate guarding of exposed areas
  • provide safe access and adequate operating procedures for access to plant

Gilmac pleaded guilty in the South Australia Employment Tribunal (SAET) for breaches of their duties under section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA).

The South Australian Employment Tribunal (SAET) convicted Gilmac and imposed a fine of $350,000 (before 30 per cent discount for an early guilty plea) plus costs.

“This incident could quite easily have resulted in a fatality, and shows a blatant disregard by the business in ensuring adequate safe systems were in place to protect workers from the unforgiving risks associated with this type of machinery,” said SafeWork SA executive director, Martyn Campbell.

“A worker is now dealing with the long-term life-changing physical and mental injuries from this incident.

“This incident should serve as a reminder to all employers of their duty to ensure adequate controls and safe systems are in place, which are the basic fundamentals to work health and safety.”

In sentencing, Deputy President Magistrate Cole took into consideration an early guilty plea applying a 30 per cent discount, accepting the defendant’s contrition and acknowledging Gilmac has “expended significant monies designing a new machine and reviewing its protocols and training in the workplace”.

He further stated however there was “little mitigation in a defendant spending money getting its safety processes up to scratch, when they should have been up to scratch in the first place”.