IN THE six months to May 2011, 12 New Zealand employers have been prosecuted and fined more than $365,000 after some of their employees suffered a range of horrifying injuries because machinery wasn’t properly guarded.
Hundreds of machine guarding-related accidents occur in workplaces each year and the Department of Labour follows up these incidents. As well as the 12 prosecutions, the Department has issued 21 prohibition notices, 101 improvement notices, 18 written warnings and reached 253 negotiated agreements.
“In the last six months we’ve seen cases of unacceptable practices by employers, requiring their employees to work on machines that are not protected,” says the Department’s chief adviser health and safety, Dr Geraint Emrys. “This has left workers with amputated fingers or limbs and in one case a man was killed when he was dragged into a large heavy-duty pulp press in Kawerau.
“No employee should be injured while doing their work. Machine guarding is a very basic way of making sure this doesn’t happen,” Dr Emrys says.
To respond to the high number of cases the Department has begun a three-year project on the safe use of machinery, with a focus on adequate guarding in the first year.
“We want the severity and number of these accidents reduced. Raising the awareness and understanding of employers and those in control of workplaces about how to use machines safely will help.
“Since the project started in August last year, health and safety inspectors have visited 876 businesses across New Zealand to talk to employers about machine guarding.
“Effective machine guarding could literally mean the difference between life and death. It is very important to make sure that employers properly identify all hazards and put in place appropriate controls to manage them. Guarding is one means of controlling the hazards associated with machinery that needs to be considered.
“Employees using machines should be properly trained and if necessary, supervised. Lock out procedures should also be in place. Comprehensive written operating procedures should be made available to staff,” Dr Emrys says.
Machinery accidents occur across many industries but the vast majority of incidents investigated by the Department are in the manufacturing, construction, food retailing, agriculture and forestry sectors.
More information on the Department’s recent prosecutions is available at: www.dol.govt.nz/News/media/index.asp•