A Perth recycling company — Resource Recovery Solutions Pty Ltd — has been found guilty of gross negligence for failing to provide and maintain a safe work environment, following a 2016 incident in which a labour hire worker’s arm was amputated at the shoulder. The incident occurred when the worker’s arm was caught in the crush point between a conveyor belt and a roller at the automated recycling plant. The worker was working as a ‘picker’, manually removing unsuitable items from conveyor belts to clear blockages 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 tagout procedure followed to isolate the moving parts of the plant when removing blockages.
WorkSafe Western Australia (WorkSafe WA) Commissioner Darren Kavanagh said the gross negligence verdict was significant, as it was the first time an entity had been found guilty of gross negligence under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. “The obligation on WorkSafe as a prosecutor to prove that a company has been grossly negligent is particularly difficult,” Kavanagh said. Kavanagh revealed that the company has a history of flouting workplace safety laws, particularly by failing to guard dangerous machinery despite previous serious injuries and instructions from WorkSafe inspectors to fit guarding around machinery. In September 2013, another worker at this plant was killed when an overloaded roof panel collapsed and crushed him. Another worker suffered a broken arm in February 2015, after his arm was dragged into a moving conveyor belt that had no guarding.
WorkSafe WA found that numerous conveyor belts in the workplace were not guarded. Inspectors were reassured that the plant was fully automated, and workers were not present when the plant was running. WorkSafe WA issued an Improvement Notice requiring guarding to be installed on crush points of the belts, but the company did not comply, despite receiving several reminder letters. “The company Director advised that the notice had been complied with, but 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,” Kavanagh said.
“The Magistrate 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. This complete disregard for worker safety is the precise reason we have gross negligence provisions in the state’s workplace safety laws, and this case should send out a strong warning to all employers to protect the safety of their workers.” The maximum penalty for this breach is a $500,000 fine, and the Magistrate will hand down the penalty at a later date.
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