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UpdatesJun 18, 2021

Breakdowns in ‘talking the talk’ and ‘walking the walk’

In a case of poor communication and systems failures, George Weston Foods Limited was fined $125,000 in the Dandenong Magistrates’ Court last week.

Tip Top Bakeries, a business unit of George Weston Foods Limited, uses an item of plant in the workplace named the ‘8000 Prover’. This equipment is a large warming chamber that grows the dough (contained in tins that sit in large trays). These trays weigh approximately 75 to 100 kilograms when loaded with dough, and they occasionally tip over and get stuck in a conveyor. Maintenance crews are then tasked with the releasing of the trays jammed in the conveyor.

On 4 January 2019, a maintenance worker crawled under the conveyor to fix a blockage. Protocol for clearing the blockage was to isolate the 8000 Prover, enter it and clean it up. While the maintenance worker was under the conveyer, poor communication between the operator and spotter caused confusion as to whether the blockage was removed. Soon, the conveyor started up and crushed the maintenance worker. The worker was trapped for 30 minutes before emergency rescue arrived and transported him to Alfred Hospital. As a result, he suffered internal bruising, minor scarring and lower back muscular pain.

The Court found that the company had failed to provide an auxiliary control panel to enable inching of the moving parts of the 8000 Prover.

In addition, the company had failed to provide an effective lock-out procedure.

In terms of poor communication, the Court was provided evidence that while the worker was under the conveyor, another maintenance worker, who was at the operator’s console, asked over the radio whether to move the 8000 Prover forwards. Another worker on the radio crew said words to the effect of “what was that”, at which point the conveyor started up and crushed the maintenance worker. The operator could not hear properly over the radio before he inched the 8000 Prover.

The company pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay a fine of $125,000 and to pay costs of $3,847.

This case is a clear example of where a risk assessment of a known hazard should have been undertaken to determine the safe operation of work. In particular, by applying the known hierarchy of controls, engineering solutions to isolate the hazard of the unintended movement of the conveyor could have been eliminated. Poor communication between workers exacerbated the matter.

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