$150K fine for employer after worker left with four amputated fingers

The horrific injuries were down to safety failures

$150K fine for employer after worker left with four amputated fingers

In a recent decision, the District Court of New South Wales considered an employee left with horrific injuries as a result of his employer’s negligence. The company ultimately pled guilty to failing to comply with its health and safety duty and was fined $150,000.

Zakar Mueller was employed by Epic Machinery Pty Ltd (“Epic”), which provides general metal engineering services. In August 2018, Mueller was using a sheering guillotine to cut sheet metal at Epic’s factory workshop. At the time of the incident, the front guard of the guillotine had been removed for inspection and repair, leaving the machine’s blade exposed.

Mueller turned away from the machine to locate its foot pedal. As he turned back, the machine activated, and the blade descended, crushing four fingers on his right hand and the tips of his first and second fingers on his left hand. As a result, Mueller had four fingers amputated.

The Hearing

In considering the appropriate penalty, the Court gave regard to the objective seriousness of Epic’s offence, which included the potential consequences of the risk, whether the risk was known, or ought to be known, to the company, and whether steps were available to eliminate the risk.

The guillotine had been left unguarded for an indefinite period, and Epic had not undertaken a risk assessment for the use of the machine in this state. Further, it was not marked as being under repair, and Mueller had not operated the machine before.

The Court found that the risk of a worker inadvertently placing their fingers or hands under the blade while operating the guillotine was foreseeable, especially given that the front guard was removed. It also found that safety measures, such as adequate supervision and undertaking a risk assessment, would have involved little effort and minimal cost to the company.

“They well knew of the risks and dangers associated with the guillotine’s use in the state that they had allowed it to be in, with the guard removed. Such a risk was clearly foreseeable, and Epic ignored its work health and safety obligations…,” the Court said.

Judgment

Having regard to Epic’s lack of previous convictions, significant ties to the community and remorse for the incident, the Court found an appropriate fine to be $200,000. This was reduced by 25% to reflect the company’s early guilty plea.

Key Takeaways

  • Employers owe a duty to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of employees
  • In considering liability, the Court will have regard to factors including whether the risk was foreseeable, the potential consequences of the risk, and whether steps were taken to minimise or eliminate the risk
  • An employer’s failure to implement appropriate safety precautions may lead to a finding of negligence
  • Employers must ensure that employees are made aware when machinery or equipment is under repair and/or not fit for use

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