Rubber company fined $450,000 after fatal blow to worker

The Melbourne County Court handed down a sentence to Elastomers Pty Ltd last Friday, after the company pleaded guilty to one count of failing to deliver a safe working environment and equipment that minimised health risks to its workers. This case is a stark reminder of the need for businesses to consider work safety products such as WHS management systems and SWMS.

In May 2021, tragedy struck at the company’s Dandenong South factory when a 47-year-old worker was fatally injured by a moving component of a rubber extrusion processing line. Reports indicate that the worker had entered a hazardous area beneath a dynamic part, known as the “wig wag.” Presumably, they were attempting to clear a blockage, unintentionally setting off a light curtain safety sensor which prompted the machine to power down.

However, an operator stationed at another level, unaware of the worker’s presence, restarted the machine using the upper control panel. As a result, the wig wag started moving again, tragically striking the worker on the head. Despite rapid onsite medical response, the worker eventually succumbed to his injuries.

A subsequent investigation into the incident by WorkSafe revealed that inconsistencies within the safety measures in place—specifically, a gap between the light curtain triggering the shutdown procedure and the danger zone—could feasibly allow for the machine being restarted while the worker was within the hazard radius. It was deemed achievable for Elastomers Pty Ltd to have implemented an extra layer of security, such as a physical interlock barrier, using something akin to a Bluesafe WHS Management System to prevent access to the risk-prone zone during the machine’s operation.

Narelle Beer, WorkSafe Executive Director Health and Safety, emphasised that employers bear the responsibility of taking every precaution to mitigate risks in their workplaces proactively. “This unfortunate event was entirely predictable,” said Dr Beer. “Distressingly, a worker lost his life due to the absence of foresight on the part of his employer.”

In this context, it cannot be overemphasised that safety guarding on plants and machinery is paramount. Employers must ensure a comprehensive level of safety for their workers by proactively identifying potential risks through effective SWMS and questioning the sufficiency of their current control measures.

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