Sad statistics on Machine machine guarding safety

The following article is reprinted from an article written by James Cairney et al of Meredith Connell for the New Zealand Safety Council.

If there was ever an area of risk management for which there seldom any excuses – it is ensuring your machinery is effectively guarded.  Since when you ask?  Since at least the now repealed Machinery Act 1950, and now under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.  If a worker cuts, severs, breaks, de-gloves or suffers any other nasty injury on machinery, you can properly expect the attention of the regulator. 

Your workers will make mistakes, they will do silly things and they will fail to do things properly.  They will fail because, like all of us, they’re human.  Your role, as a PCBU, is to ensure that when your workers fail, they fail safely.  Because, at some point, they will fail.

WorkSafe has seen more guarding failure cases than it cares to and, while many of the mistakes by PCBUs are understandable, very few are excusable.  A recent tragic case involved a fatality – the worst of all guarding failures.  This type of thing can happen.

Worksafe New Zealand v The Homegrown Juice Co Ltd [2019] NZDC 16605

In this case, the defendant, The Homegrown Juice Company, ran a business involving filling and capping of bottles for, as you might imagine, juice.  The victim was employed to be in charge of operating the machine.   The incident occurred – as they often do – while the victim was cleaning the machine.  She entered the front access doors, and the machine was not isolated.  Hooks of the machine caught her and drew her into the machine.  This resulted in her arm getting pulled across her throat and she passed away from asphyxiation. 

It occurred because the company relied on administrative controls, as opposed to interlocks and proper guarding.    Administrative controls, as you probably know, are no substitute for stronger level controls such as mechanical controls. 

The Court assessed the culpability level to be in the midpoint of the high culpability band of the tariff Stumpmaster case (Stumpmaster v Worksafe New Zealand [2018] NZHC 2020) with a starting point of $700,000 for the fine.  In reaching the decision, the Court focused on the fact that it was self-evident that death from entrapment in machinery was a credible outcome.  The company ought to have known that its failure to install interlocks was a departure from prevailing industry standards and exposed its employees to potential for a serious injury.  Following discounts for pleading guilty and other things, the Court imposed a fine of $367,000.50, with the victim’s family to be additional reparation of $90,000.  The Court also ordered the company to pay other rewards referred to of $8,919.11 (for expenses in relation to matters including the funeral), $42,716.22 for consequential and economic loss, and $1,500 for solicitor’s costs to the victim.

It is a tragic and avoidable case.  Irrespective of the financial penalties, someone has lost their life, and industry can do better than this.  Sadly, machine guarding failures are common.   So ask, are there risks from my machinery? What are they? How serious are the risks (in respect of consequences and likelihood)? And how can I best address these risks to make the machine safe for my people to use, and for my people to make mistakes on.

Worksafe NZ have revealed that in a two year period 1 October 2017 to 4 October 2019 they issued 603 Improvement notices, and 142 Prohibition notices.  Like the iceberg syndrome this is only what Worksafe found when visiting workplaces and the problem is probably far greater that this.

We all need to do our bit.