On 20 October 2009, two young workers were loading a new plate onto a cylinder in a printing machine. When they were trying to make the plate fit, one of them caught his right hand in a nip point. The tip of his little finger was cut off and the tips of two other fingers were crushed. He had to undergo reconstructive surgery and skin grafts.
The company, who operated the printing machine, were prosecuted for breach of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000 (NSW). Another company who operated in the same premises was charged with breach of s 8(1) of the Act because one of the young workers was its employee, and the company with breach of s 8(2) relating to non-employees. Both companies pleaded guilty. They had failed to ensure the workplace was safe because they had failed to ensure that workers were not exposed to dangerous moving parts of a machine.
The same incident also gave rise to a separate prosecution of the labour hire company who had employed the worker whose hand was injured and placed him with the printing company.
The evidence in the Industrial Court of NSW concentrated on the operation of the printing machine. It had previously been used in Germany and had been imported and reassembled without a guard for the nip point in question. It had undergone two risk assessments – one after its installation in January 2007 and one in February 2008. The risk assessments had not identified that a guard was missing, nor had the absence of a guard been remarked upon when regular service and maintenance had been carried out by engineers from a local subsidiary of the German manufacturer. As a result, the safe work instructions developed by the defendants for the operation of the machine did not include a warning about working in the area of the nip point. However, the investigation after the incident ascertained that the operation manual provided by the manufacturer had specified that a guard had to be fitted at the nip point.
The court pointed out that the risk of serious harm had been foreseeable whenever plates were being changed on the machine, because at such times the nip point was in plain view. After the accident, the defendants had installed a simple guarding device, carried out another risk assessment and revised the operating procedure. These were simple and straightforward steps, which clearly could have been taken before the accident. The offence was serious and could so easily have been avoided.
When determining the penalties, the court took into account subjective factors in mitigation. Because of the early guilty pleas, the court allowed the companies a discount of 25%. Their generally good safety record, cooperation with the incident investigation, and the prompt action they had taken to install a guard and revise the operating procedure were also noted. Both companies, however, had previous safety convictions.
Both companies were convicted. One was fined $115,000 and the other $90,000.
Inspector Cooper v J I T Offset Pty Ltd  NSWIRComm 90 (10 October 2013)
Image credit – BobbyJean