Worker, told to ignore safety rules, suffers horror hand injury and is then sacked

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
5 Min Read

A roofing manufacturer has been fined $40,000 after a worker had their hand mangled in machinery after being encouraged to take safety shortcuts.

Uniroll Roofing was convicted last week and found guilty of safety and training breaches after encouraging a factory worker to bypass a machine’s safeguards to clean it.

The court heard the inexperienced worker had only been at the Victorian-based roofing company for a week and had yet to receive any official training when he was asked to operate the metal forming press.

After noticing the machine’s rollers were depositing marks on the metal, he shut the machine down to clean them.

The co-owner allegedly told the worker to clean it while it was operating, showing him how to breach safety regulations by bypassing the equipment’s safety guarding.

Whilst cleaning the machine, the worker’s hand was dragged into the roller, crushing and severely cutting two of his fingers, ripping large pieces of soft tissue away from the hand muscles and connecting tissues. 

He underwent multiple surgeries to repair his hand and re-attach his skin and was unable to go back to full-time work for four months before being terminated upon his return. 

How to correctly manage machine safety risks:

  • Identify hazards, assess risks, and eliminate or control them.  
  • Train staff in safely operating and cleaning machines and equipment.
  • Develop and implement safe operating and cleaning procedures. 
  •  Provide written safety procedures in the worker’s first language.
  • Consultation with employees about health and safety risks.
  • Use lower-risk machinery when possible. 
  • Ensure safety guards and gates are compliant and permanently fixed. 
  • Regularly service and inspect machines and equipment.
  • Place signs near machines to alert employees of operational dangers.
  • Only clean machines when they are disconnected from power. 

The court fined Uniroll Roofing in excess of $40,000 for failing to implement necessary safety protocols during the incident, such as requiring workers to turn off and isolate power to the equipment prior to cleaning.

They also acknowledged that the company had failed to provide adequate information, instruction, and training on this procedure or inform workers that cleaning should only occur when the machine is not operational. 

The Waranambool-based business pled guilty to one charge of failing to provide or maintain a safe system of work and one charge of failing to provide employees with necessary information, instruction or training.

WorkSafe Victoria has since slammed the business’s management and warned they would take action whenever employers did not put worker safety first. 

“It is incredibly alarming that this inexperienced worker was put in harms way by someone in authority who they should have been able to rely on to keep them safe,” WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said.

“It is simply unacceptable to take shortcuts on safety and fail to ensure there are safe systems of work and appropriate information, instruction and training for workers to do the job safely.”

Machine-related injuries on the rise

It’s not the first time a metal business has faced WorkSafe’s wrath this year in the wake of a machine safety-related injury.

Last month, one of Australia’s largest scrap metal exporters was fined $40,000 after a worker got his arm stuck in a shredder.

The worker’s arm was dragged into the metal shredding machine used to separate, compact and cut materials after he fell forward onto its conveyor belt.

The contractor sustained permanent severe injuries as a result of the incident, including losing the full use of his lower arm and hand.

He subsequently lost partial function of that limb as well as broken bones and significant skin loss, needing multiple skin grafts.  

Manhari International Metal Recyclers in Melbourne was punished without conviction for failing to adequately address work safety risks in the lead-up to the accident.

WorkSafe Executive Director Health and Safety Narelle Beer described the incident as preventable.

“Safety guarding on plant and machinery is crucial to keeping everyone in the workplace safe and reducing the very real risk of death or serious injury – so it beggars belief that anyone would allow such a machine to operate without this in place,” Dr Beer said.

“In this case, a worker has suffered a traumatic and life-changing injury that, sadly, could and should have been prevented.”

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.