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January 2020

Employee in a meat processing facility loses a hand in safety incident

Employee in a meat processing facility loses a hand in safety incident

WorkSafe Victoria v JBS Australia Pty Ltd (2019)

Facts

JBS Australia Pty Ltd (JBS) runs multiple meat processing facilities, including a facility located in Brooklyn. This workplace had an area known as the ‘lamb kill floor’ where hanging sheep carcasses moved down a line. A number of items of plant were placed on the lamb kill floor, including an item of plant known as the backup hide puller, which was a machine used to remove hide from each lamb carcass and pull it off when the primary hide puller failed to work. When using the backup hide puller, a chain or strap would be attached to the hide and the other end of the chain or strap would be attached to a lug. The hide would be pulled from the carcass as the lug rotated the chain or strap.

On 15 November 2017, an employee was using the backup hide puller. Because multiple employees were working in and around the area, the backup hide puller was left running.

The employee wrapped one end of the chain around his left wrist, before deciding to use a strap instead. As he was attaching a strap, the chain became entangled and dragged him into the machine. As a result, his left wrist and hand was severed from his arm.

The employee was transported to hospital but his hand could not be re-attached.

Judgment

The Melbourne Magistrates’ Court held that JBS breached sections 21(1) and (2)(a) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) by failing, so far as reasonably practicable, to provide a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.

Although JBS had a task description stating that the backup hide puller should be switched off when the chain attached to the hide is hooked onto the backup hide puller, there was a risk of serious injury if employees became entangled with the running backup hide puller. JBS failed to put in place a system to ensure that that backup hide puller was not left running.

JBS was convicted in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court after pleading guilty, and was fined $90,000 and ordered to pay costs of $4,800.

Lessons

It is insufficient for an employer to just have a written procedure on how plant should be used. Employers must also ensure that the procedure is complied with. In this case, the employees stated that it was common practice for the machine to be left running when busy.

This practice meant that there was a foreseeable risk of injury that was not adequately controlled.

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