SafeWork NSW v Bullock MFG Pty Limited (2020)
Bullock MFG Pty Limited (Bullock) is a sheet metal product manufacturer for the air-conditioning industry. The company engaged labour-hire employees for various roles, such as operating metal equipment and machinery.
In August 2017, a worker from labour-hire company, Assign Blue Pty Ltd, was operating a 23-year-old press that had a number of loose screws and inadequate guarding. While operating the press, the worker had three fingers amputated. The incident occurred due to the guarding on the machine being set too high, which meant the operator’s hand was exposed to the cutting area.
The Court found that Bullock failed to:
- install appropriate guarding;
- give the worker adequate training or instructions on how to use the press; and
- have safe work procedures in place.
Bullock was convicted of a category 2 breach under section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) as the failure in its duty of care resulted in serious injury.
The company entered a plea of guilty and was, with conviction, sentenced to pay a fine of $165,000 (after a 25% reduction for its guilty plea) and $36,000 in legal costs.
In sentencing the company, the Court noted that it had spent more than $500,000 on factory improvements, including:
- engaging safety experts to review its operating systems;
- improving guarding and electrical systems;
- introducing a rigid plant maintenance regime; and
- purchasing new machinery and equipment.
This decision confirms the duty of care is to proactively identify and rectify safety issues, and make improvements to mitigate future risks. In cases where the business does not have in-house expertise, it is important to engage safety experts to review systems of work for safety compliance.
Further, businesses must ensure machinery and equipment are regularly serviced to avoid exposing operators to safety risks. If machinery or equipment cannot be upgraded to ensure it is safe to use, it should be removed. Workers must be adequately trained before operating any machinery and be supervised when appropriate. In addition, safe work procedures for operating machinery must be prepared and workers must be supervised to ensure they operate machinery in accordance with such procedures.