Waste recycling company guilty of gross negligence over arm 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 Institue of Health & Safety.
Date: 
Tuesday, 21 July, 2020 - 10:00
Category: 
Incidents & prosecutions
Location: 
Western Australia

A Bayswater waste recycling company has been found guilty of gross negligence over a 2016 incident in which a labour hire worker’s arm was amputated at the shoulder.

Resource Recovery Solutions Pty Ltd was recently found guilty of gross negligence in failing to provide and maintain a safe work environment for a labour hire worker in the Perth Magistrates Court.

In January 2016, a worker at Resource Recovery Solutions had his arm amputated at the shoulder when it was caught in the crush point between a conveyer belt and a roller at the automated recycling plant.

He had been working as a “picker”, a worker whose job it was to manually remove unsuitable items from conveyor belts and to clear blockages or jams in various machines.

A blockage had been cleared and the belts had been restarted when the worker reached in to remove a rock and was dragged into the crush point.

There was no guarding around the crush points of the belt, and there was no lockout tag out procedure followed to isolate the moving parts of the plant when removing blockages.

WorkSafe WA Commissioner Darren Kavanagh said today the gross negligence verdict was significant.

“This decision is important as it is the first time an entity has been found guilty of gross negligence under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the most serious offence possible under that Act,” Kavanagh said.

“The obligation on WorkSafe as a prosecutor to prove that a company has been grossly negligent is particularly difficult.

“The company had a long history of flouting workplace safety laws, particularly by failing to guard dangerous machinery despite previous serious injuries and despite being instructed to fit guarding by WorkSafe inspectors.

“In September 2013, another worker at this plant was killed when an overloaded roof panel collapsed and crushed him.

“WorkSafe inspectors visited the workplace and found that numerous conveyor belts were not guarded,” he said.

“They were reassured that the plant was fully automated and workers were not present when the plant was running.”

Another worker suffered a broken arm in February 2015 when his arm was dragged into a moving conveyor belt which again had no guarding, and WorkSafe issued an improvement notice requiring guarding to be installed on crush points of the belts – but this was not complied with despite several reminder letters being sent to the employer.

The company director advised that the notice had been complied with, but Kavanagh said this worker had his arm literally torn off by an unguarded conveyor belt.

“The employer, in this case, has continued to disregard the safety of workers by allowing them to work with conveyor belts with unguarded crush points even after numerous incidents at that workplace,” he said.

The Magistrate stated in her decision that the disregard for safety was blatant and went well beyond mere neglect, and concluded beyond reasonable doubt that the company acted or failed to act in disregard of the likelihood of causing death or serious harm to a person to whom a duty was owed.

The maximum penalty for this breach is a $500,000 fine, and the Magistrate will hand down the penalty at a later date.