A Dingley engineering company which had been fined a total of $375,000 after three employees were injured in separate incidents had its appeal dismissed by the Court of Appeal last week.

Dotmar EPP Pty Ltd had pleaded guilty in the County Court in August to two charges of failing to provide or maintain plant and systems of work that were, so far as reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health.

The first charge related to a period from 12 October 2009 to 19 August 2010, in which two employees suffered hand injuries in separate incidents while operating a lathe.

The second charge related to a single incident on 18 March 2010, in which an employee suffered lacerations to his leg when it became trapped between the rotating table and frame of a router.

On the first charge, the County Court fined Dotmar $300,000. On the second charge it fined Dotmar $75,000. The company appealed the fines, claiming that they were manifestly excessive.

In 2003, the company had bought a CNC “Fat Boy” lathe in 2003 which had guard doors to prevent access to the high-speed moving parts of the machine when it was operating. An interlock switch prevented the machine from operating when the doors were open.

However, sometime in or before 2004 the company had overridden the switch, allowing the machine to be used with the guard doors open.

During a WorkSafe inspection in 2006, an inspector noticed the switch had been bypassed and issued an improvement notice ordering the doors be interlocked. The company complied with this request but, two months later, the interlock switch was again bypassed.

On 12 October, 2009, an employee was attempting to clear plastic shavings from the lathe when the tip of his finger was crushed. The injury forced him on altered duties for two weeks. The injured worker had been trained to use the lathe with the guard doors open.

On 19 August, 2010, another employee was injured when he put his hand near the machine’s rotating parts. His injuries included a broken thumb which needed surgery and kept him off work for seven weeks.

The County Court also heard that on 18 March 2010, an employee was using a router to drill holes in a plastic product when the router’s moving table – designed to move the plastic under the router head for drilling or cutting – trapped his leg against the frame of the router. He could not reach the emergency stop button, which had to be activated by another employee. He was freed by emergency services and taken to hospital.

Prior to being injured, the employee had expressed concern to the company’s OHS manager that he might be bumped by the router’s table but no action was taken.

In dismissing Dotmar’s appeal on Wednesday, the Court of Appeal said it did not accept the company’s argument that the fines imposed should reflect the seriousness of the employees’ injuries.

“The OHS Act is concerned generally with risks to health and safety and … concerned specifically with the duties owed with respect to health and safety,” it said in its judgment.

“It is the extent of the failure to ensure that employees are not exposed to risk to their health and safety which determines the objective gravity of the offence. The consequences of the failure generally do not.”

The Court of Appeal was scathing of Dotmar’s disregard for employee safety.

“Not only did the offending behaviour embraced by the first charge take place over a 10-month period, but it occurred against a background of several years' egregious failure to adhere to proper safety procedures with respect to the Fat Boy lathe,” it said.

“Dotmar well knew that overriding of the interlock of the guard doors permitted operators to put their hands near the dangerous moving parts of the machine, and that this presented a grave risk to the safety of its employees.

“It is thus plain that Dotmar showed an almost complete disregard for the safety of its employees. Indeed, it beggars belief that Dotmar did not take immediate remedial steps after (the first injury), but instead permitted the continued operation of the unguarded lathe.”

On the second charge it said that the $75,000 fine was “unremarkable”.

WorkSafe’s executive director of Health and Safety, Marnie Williams, said it was pleasing the appeal had been dismissed.

“The company had known of the risks associated with overriding the interlock since at least 2004, but chose instead to place the lathe operators in harm’s way for more than five years,” Ms Williams said.

“It cynically disregarded WorkSafe’s inspection in 2006 by overriding the interlock two months after our visit and despite the first injury occurring in 2009, the company still did not bother reinstating this simple safety measure.

“Clearly it had no regard for the safety of its employees and it deserved a significant penalty.”

Ms Williams said guarding was an effective means of keeping workers safe from any machinery with moving parts.

“Time and time again, WorkSafe inspectors are called to incidents in which employees have been maimed by machines that have not been appropriately guarded,” she said. “There is simply no excuse for employers allowing any machine to be used without appropriate safety measures, such as guarding, in place.”

Source: WorkSafe News