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Perspective

A costly mistake and the huge costs associated with Undertakings

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Victorian employer George Weston Foods Ltd (GWF) has learnt a costly lesson after inadequate Job Safety Analysis’ (JSAs) were completed for moving a 1.4-tonne, four-metre-long decommissioned bagging machine from the production area to an outdoor concrete area on steel skates. This mistake resulted in the company committing to a $1,000,000 enforceable undertaking with WorkSafe.

On 6 June 2017, three GWF employees were directed to move the large bagging machine up a small ramp towards the roller doors of the maintenance shed. While a JSA was completed for the task, it failed to cover the critical step of manually pushing the machine up the ramp and did not capture these risks. When the employees pushed the machine through the roller doors into the maintenance shed, a skate dislodged from under the machine causing it to fall on its side. Consequently, one of the employees who was pushing it got pinned under it and suffered serious injuries, including skull, brain, neck, and eye injuries.

An investigation by WorkSafe found that GWF failed to provide a safe working environment by failing to identify the risks and hazards of this task. Since the incident, GWF implemented several safety initiatives including:

  • Destroying the skates used in the incident and prohibiting the use of any skates when moving equipment;
  • Developing strong systems and processes in relation to the preparation of a job safety analysis and permits to work;
  • Implementing strict protocols in relation to the transport of plant and equipment;
  • Providing training to staff on the use of job safety analysis, including 6 minute videos on safe operating procedures; and
  • Implementing new processes to engage specialist contractors who are experienced with moving equipment which either cannot be picked up by hand, is not permanently affixed to wheels , is not designed for forklift movement or requires the use of skates.

Having considered and approved the proactive measures taken, WorkSafe accepted the proposed enforceable undertaking which totalled $1,000,000.  GWF has 24 months to complete the following undertakings:

  1. Investing $700,000 to improve their engineering controls for roof-based plant and equipment which will benefit their maintenance team;
  2. Donating $50,000 to Windarring, a people centred, community-based organisation who supports people with disabilities;
  3. Investing $100,000 to provide La Trobe University (Bendigo) engineering students with paid internships for a tenured period of 6 months to develop their job skill set; and
  4. Working with the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) and La Trobe University to develop a seminar to businesses which focus on the Incident and learning opportunities they have identified.

Any remaining funds from the $1,000,000 will be used to provide further paid internships Latrobe University (Bendigo).

Lessons

  1. Make sure your JSAs are completed properly and account for every risk. Your employees should be completing this for every new task!
  2. Enforceable undertakings will only be approved by WorkSafe if they go ‘beyond mere compliance’ with an employer’s safety obligations, will cost you more than a plea and place your Officers at risk-there has to be compelling reasons to seek an undertaking
  3. If you are caught doing the wrong thing, take proactive steps to fix it and prevent the incident from ever occurring again. WorkSafe and the courts look more favourably on employers who show remorse and take active steps to increase their safety levels.
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