An Adelaide barrel manufacturer (or cooperage) has been convicted, fined and ordered to pay compensation by the SA Industrial Court following a workplace incident that left a young worker with severe hand injuries.
Diverse Barrel Solutions Pty Ltd had already pleaded guilty to a breach of section 19(1) of South Australia's Occupational Health Safety and Welfare Act 1986 in failing to ensure the health and safety of an employee at work.
SafeWork SA prosecuted after investigating the incident at the company's Netley premises in February 2008.
The court heard how the then 21-year-old cooper's assistant had been assigned to clean out sawdust from a ‘stave jointer' machine, which shapes timbers under precise computer control, into the individual staves that make up the sides of a barrel.
In doing so his hand came into contact with the spinning blades of a heavy cutter wheel within, resulting in broken bones, severed tendons and multiple lacerations to his dominant right hand. This necessitated extensive treatment including four operations, skin grafts and physiotherapy.
The young man was left with permanent disfigurement and loss of function in his hand. While he returned to partial work some months on, he eventually resigned to work elsewhere.
SafeWork SA submitted that the employer failed its workplace safety duties in that: it failed to install an interlock guard to prevent access to the blades; its safe work procedure for the task of cleaning sawdust from the machine was inadequate; there was no procedure in place to activate a lock out switch before cleaning; and it failed to provide necessary information and training in safe use of the machine.
Industrial Magistrate Stephen Lieschke described the incident as an objectively serious breach, saying "... far greater care and attention should have been paid to separating (the) young employee from the dangerous cutter blades while performing cleaning duties".
He fined the company $32,000 after a discount of 20 per cent for its early guilty plea, cooperation, contrition and remedial action, while he also ordered the payment of $5,400 as compensation to the victim's mother for loss of income while caring for her son.