Grain cooperative faces hefty fine for workplace incident

A grain cooperative in Western Australia has been fined $37,500 and ordered to pay $3577 in costs over insufficient guarding on machinery that lead to a worker sustaining a serious hand injury.

Cooperative Bulk Handling (CBH) pleaded guilty in the Southern Cross Magistrates Court to failing to provide and maintain a safe work environment causing serious harm to an employee.

According to reports, CBH operate a grain receival and transport network across Western Australia with 197 grain receival sites including the CBH Grain Terminal Bodallin.

Reports tended to the court state that receival sites have a conveyor loading system that includes a tripper, a funnel device that feeds grain from the ground to a stacker/loader, an electric conveyor machine used to transfer grain into open bulkhead storages and require a minimum of two workers to operate the loader/stacker; one to actually operate it and the other to act as a “spotter” to monitor the distance of the machine from any obstacles.

The electric cable that powers the stacker/loader has to be plugged into underground sockets approximately nine metres apart.  It is moved into position and connected to a tripper.

In February 2014, a worker was helping to move a stacker/loader, which was connected to a tripper on conveyor one at Bodallin.  She was acting as spotter on the right hand side of the operator.

The electrical cable had reached its full length, so the worker unplugged it and handed it to another worker to plug into the next socket. The court was told the operator called out all clear and re-started the stacker/loader.  The worker was watching the cord and had her hand on the safety mesh/guard to her right.

As the stacker/loader moved forward, the worker’s right hand fell onto the rail and the tripper wheel ran over it.  The operator immediately stopped the machine and backed the tripper wheel off her hand.

The hand was extensively injured, resulting in three surgeries, the final of which was to amputate her little finger, which had curled over and caused constant pain.  She was also left with no feeling in her ring finger leading to difficulty in gripping objects.

The tripper wheel was guarded, but the guard was upside down and incorrectly fitted on the wrong side of the wheel, so was deficient in both design and placement.

In December 2014, CBH implemented a new design of tripper wheel guard to all its 197 sites across the State.  The cost was $17.20 per guard, a total of just under $1.06 million.

CBH was aware that there was a safety issue with the guards and that they needed to be replaced, but the fact that they were not replaced in a timely manner was a serious breach of their obligation to provide a safe workplace.

However, the Magistrate did accept that CBH went to expense across Western Australia to eliminate any further injury and the company had a good safety record. DMIRS acting deputy director general safety Simon Ridge said it was always disappointing to see injuries caused by insufficient guarding on the moving parts of machinery.

“Guarding of the dangerous moving parts of machinery is such a basic and easy precaution to take, and employers need to take a good hard look at the guarding situation and stop exposing employees to the risk of injury,” Ridge said.

“Subsequent to this incident, the employer installed new guards on all their tripper wheels.  But if this had been done earlier, this incident would not have occurred and the employee involved would have been spared a great deal of suffering.

“The fact is that CBH was well aware of the problem with the old guards, but did not take action to remedy the situation until months after this incident.”


Image sourced from Flickr cc: Badrow Zaman

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