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Work health and safety obligations

Posted on : Tuesday, 14 November 2017

A recent NSW District Court decision saw a long-standing employee with a good employment record convicted for endangering the health and safety of another worker. The employee's employer was also convicted in separate proceedings where the Court found that it had contributed to the incident by not providing the employee with training.

 

Facts

While this case is not a fire protection industry case, it nevertheless demonstrates that despite experience and knowledge, failings can occur with serious repercussions.

 
An employee attended a customer's premises to repair an extruder machine. In undertaking the repair process, the extruder, at the relevant time, was left unattended by the employee.  During this time, however, the extruder was surrounded by three employees of the customer. It was also during this period while the employee was away to pick up a tool to attend to the machine, that one of the customer's employees tried to assist the process. However, in attempting to do so, another of the customer's employees, positioned on the other side of the extruder, was hit in the face by steam and molten metal. This latter employee was off work for four months and gradually recovered. The customer's employees were not wearing any protective clothing other than gloves.

 

Court considerations and decision

The employee failed to inform the customer's employees that the dismantling of the extruder would have to wait another day, having formed the opinion that he could not achieve any more without dismantling the extruder and to do that it had to cool down. The employee also failed to have the other persons move away from the extruder when he was working on it and he could have advised those persons to wear PPE, or as the Court said if he alternatively provided the customer with a MSDS, it may have required them to wear PPE.

 
The Court also found that the employee's company had not provided its employee with any of the following:

 

  • OHS training;
  • Safe work methodology statement training or procedures;
  • Documenting safe work practice procedures;
  • Risk identification or management; or
  • Risk assessment.

 

The Court considered that the employee had not been trained on how to recognise the risks created by his work at the customer's premises or trained him on the appropriate steps to take to eliminate or minimise the risks created. The Court found that the employee's lack of training as to his obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act (NSW) is the most significant causal factor in the incident.

 
The Court, however, found that the employee's error was an isolated one and came about through a series of unexpected events.