A WA-based tyre recycling company in Welshpool has been fined $80,000 and ordered to pay $2013 in costs over an incident in which a worker’s fingers were amputated by a tyre shredder.
Elan Energy Management pleaded guilty to failing to provide and maintain a safe workplace and, by that failure, causing serious harm to an employee and was fined in the Perth Magistrates Court.
In September 2013, four workers at Elan Energy were engaged in using an item of plant – a mobile shredder mounted on a trailer – to shred tyres and reduce them into smaller pieces.
On the company’s instructions, one worker was operating the controls, two were loading the tyres onto the in-feed conveyor and one was located at the out-feed, standing on the trailer ensuring that the conveyor belt continued to clear and that blockages did not occur.
Company employees were observing that the out-feed would block frequently – up to ten times an hour – and the worker at the controls would then reverse the cutters of the shredder to free any wedged rubber.
Pulling on the wedged rubber was also sometimes required, in which case the cutter rotation would be stopped while the out-feed conveyor belt continued to run.
On the day of the incident, the 17-year-old unskilled worker who was located on the trailer at the out-feed of the shredder noticed that a long thin piece of rubber was stuck in the out-feed, and signalled the controller to reverse the shredder.
He then grabbed the stuck piece of tyre and fed it back into the reversing shredder with his right hand while holding the side of the out-feed with his left hand. The piece of tyre was pulled onto the cutters quickly, pulling his hand with it.
All fingers on his right hand were amputated by the cutters, and his right thumb proved unsalvageable after initial surgery to reattach it.
WorkSafe WA Commissioner Lex McCulloch said the case was yet another reminder to industry of the extreme importance of guarding the moving parts of machinery.
“This company was well aware of the unguarded cutters, and the operations manager at the premises repeatedly warned workers not to reach inside the shredder,” McCulloch said.
“A mobile shredder safe work practices document used in the workplace also warned not to place hands or arms in the shredder while it was operating.
“In addition, the operator’s manual for the plant warned that no employee should be standing on the trailer while the shredder was in operation.
“However, the bottom line is that it was practicable for Elan Energy to have placed guarding at the out-feed area to prevent employees from accessing the cutters, and this was not done.
“Since this incident, the company installed a guard on the out-feed area, but unfortunately too late for this worker who – at just 17 years of age – suffered permanent impairment that was entirely avoidable.
“Guarding of the dangerous moving parts of machinery is such a basic and easy precaution to take, and it really is time for employers to take a good hard look at the guarding situation and stop exposing employees to the risk of injury.”