On 22 August 2017, the first judgment under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSW Act) was released.
An employee at Budget Plastics Limited was left with only their thumb and half a forefinger after their hand was caught and pulled into a plastic extrusion machine. Budget Plastics was convicted and fined $100,000, and ordered to pay $37,500 reparation and $1,000 legal costs.
Budget Plastics was charged under section 36(1a) of the HSW Act, which states that PCBU’s must ensure (so far as reasonably practicable) the health and safety of workers.
Approximately 1.5 months before the incident, Budget Plastics had engaged a Health and Safety company to undertake a review of the workplace. That company highlighted a number of areas that required immediate attention, including the need for guards on all moving parts of the extrusion machine. At the time of the incident, Budget had not yet addressed the concerns relating to the extrusion machine.
The Court also found that Budget Plastics had failed to:
- Install appropriately located emergency stops on the extrusion machine;
- Have adequate systems in place for identifying hazards in the workplace;
- Have an adequate safe operating procedure for using the extrusion machine; and
- Have adequate policies/procedures for training workers in using the extrusion machine.
Under the old health and safety legislation, fines for cases involving machine guarding ranged from $30,000 to $40,000 on average. The maximum penalty under the HSW Act is $1.5million.
The Court determined Budget Plastic’s culpability was moderate, and recommended a starting point of between $400,000 and $600,000 for the fine. That was reduced to between $210,000 and $315,000 after the Court considered mitigating factors such as the company’s clean record, cooperation, remorse, remedial steps and guilty plea. The Court ultimately set the fine at $100,000 after considering extensive affidavit evidence as to Budget Plastic’s inability to pay more than $100,000 and the case was not severe enough to warrant putting Budget Plastics out of business.
In setting reparation at $37,500, the Court sought guidance from recent caselaw (under the old legislation) with comparable facts. The Court also ordered Budget Plastics pay $1000 towards Worksafe’s legal costs.
In WorkSafe’s media release, General Manager Operations and Specialist Services, Brett Murray, said,
“The lesson here is to fix machinery as soon as risks are identified. If you can’t fix it, then take it out of service until it is safe to use.”
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