Poor safety claims three more fingers in meat industry

28 July 2009

Safety failings in the meat processing industry have again been highlighted by the prosecution of Diamond Valley Pork Pty Ltd, which has been convicted and fined $45,000 in the Werribee Magistrates Court.

WorkSafe Victoria prosecuted the company after a worker lost three fingers in January 2007.

Diamond Valley Pork pleaded guilty to two charges relating to its failure to properly train workers and provide safe plant and systems of work.

Magistrate Gerard Lethbridge was told a man employed by a labour hire company at the firm’s Laverton North processing plant lost three fingers when his hand came into contact with a rotating shaft or paddle of a meat-mixing machine.

WorkSafe’s investigation found the machine was not adequately guarded as covers could be removed while the machine was running. There was no cut off switch to stop the machine operating if the covers were removed.

A safety switch designed to turn off the machine if the top door was opened could also be by-passed.

Although the injured man’s supervisor told investigators dangers had been pointed out during on-the-job training, WorkSafe found there were no safe operating procedures in relation to the operation of the meat mixing machine.

While reaching across to turn off the machine, the injured man was struck by the mixing paddles and three fingers were amputated.

He was taken to hospital where he had surgery to re-attach his fingers. He has since had a number of operations to facilitate the operation of them.

The court noted it was a serious breach that involved serious injury that was foreseeable and preventable.

The Director of WorkSafe’s Manufacturing and Logistics Division, Ross Pilkington, said while some improvements in claims numbers were occurring in Victoria’s meat industry, the overall rate was still three times the rate for the manufacturing sector.

He said employers and unions were working closely with WorkSafe to achieve further improvement.

Injuries to the hands and fingers are the single biggest cause of injuries in the meat industry recording 22% of all workers compensation claims.

“Guarding to prevent access to moving parts of machines and electrical interlock switches that protect workers were fitted after this incident.

”As with so many incidents like this, the safety improvement work was done too late for the man who went through the trauma of losing three fingers.

“It is immensely frustrating that, in an industry with a poor safety record, that simple, effective and inexpensive steps are not taken to prevent people being hurt.

“Protection is better then perceptions of productivity.

“Taking short cuts with safety and allowing them to be taken is a short cut to a permanent injury or death. It’s also a short cut to prosecution,” Mr Pilkington said.

A range of health and safety solutions and statistics for the meat and other industries, including a poster, can be found on WorkSafe’s website.

WorkSafe had produced a range of publications aimed at the meat industry. They include: Machinery and Equipment Safety - An Introduction, Code of Practice for Plant No.19, dated 1 July 1995, Manual handling the red meat industry, Safe use and maintenance of knives in the red meat industry, and Q fever prevention.

Australian Standard AS 4024.1-1996, Safeguarding of Machinery Part 1: General Principles is also relevant.

The charges:
Section 21(1) & (2)(a) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 - Failure to provide and maintain plant and systems of work in respect of the meat mixing machine at the defendant’s premises.

Section 21(1) & (2)(e) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 - Failure to provide information, instruction, training and supervision as was necessary to employees.

Media inquiries: Michael Birt 0411 256 605.