Recent court decisions regarding serious safety incidents involving companies in the food industry are an important reminder of the safety risks and serious injuries that can result from unguarded food machinery and equipment during use, cleaning and maintenance. In these cases, the companies involved were found to be in breach of their duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Vic).
In one case, a worker sustained deep lacerations to her hand whilst cleaning a crumb auger that was unguarded. The company failed to guard the crumb auger and failed to provide information, instruction and training to persons cleaning the plant on the dangers of the crumb auger. The company offender pleaded guilty and was sentenced with conviction to a fine of $30,000 plus costs.
In another incident, a worker who was cleaning a conveyor reached under the conveyor to pick up fruit that had fallen onto the ground. Her hair became entangled with an unguarded rotating drive shaft and she was partially scalped and lost an ear. There was no company requirement to isolate the conveyor during cleaning. The conveyor was energised and moving during the cleaning process. There was a lack of guarding on the conveyor including the drive shaft. There were multiple nip, shear and entrapment hazards on the perimeter of the conveyor and unimpeded access to the underside of the conveyor and drive shafts. The offender pleaded guilty and was, without conviction, sentenced to pay $50,000, however the Director of Public Prosecutions has commenced an appeal against this sentence.
Measures to avert similar safety incidents in your business
These are our top tips:
- Conduct a risk assessment of food machinery/equipment and identify risks eg crushing, entanglement, entrapment or shearing, and implement appropriate control measures eg switch off and lock out/ tag out system to prevent operation during cleaning;
- Do a check and ensure appropriate guarding of all moving parts eg nip points, chains etc; and
- Inform, instruct and train all workers on the dangers and safe procedures for cleaning and maintenance (eg isolate the machine before cleaning).
When it comes to occupational health and safety, prevention is definitely advisable.