Health and safety: Machine safety… how to stay out of jail

By Craig Carlyle, director at Maintenance Transformations

We don’t go to work to die, and we don’t plan to be fined out of existence or sent to jail when things go wrong. However, Case Law shows that the unthinkable is still a regular occurrence and most of us still have our head in the sand at work. Judgments offer insights into where companies are going wrong with machine safety and the reality of what businesses should focus on to protect workers and stay out of jail. 

A Queenstown tortilla manufacturer installed a tortilla oven, horrifically burning a worker after he became trapped in the machine. WorkSafe stated “… failed to ensure a risk assessment of the machinery was carried out, failed to provide suitable guarding, and failed to ensure that workers were adequately trained…”.

In Rotorua, failing to conduct guarding checks and provide safe work procedures for equipment malfunctions cost a timber company $680,000 after two separate serious harm injuries involving machinery.

Machine guarding has been legally required in New Zealand since 1950. After 70 years, WorkSafe points out that fatalities and injuries are still a reality for too many workers. While we like to think we are not like the Case Law defendants, machine safety auditing experience shows that every site audited has issues that have been ignored. Some have just been lucky so far.

Even after last decade’s new statute, supporting regulations, and a machine safety guideline, machine safety statistics have not improved at all this century – underlining WorkSafe’s frustration at the ongoing poor attitude in industry. 

As a primary action, you can commission a machine safety audit to gain an external view of the hazards and controls required to safely operate your machines (including guarding). Couple this with machine safety training to embed cognisance of your management requirements within your organisation.

For the engineer, an emphasis on recorded checks of guarding and emergency isolation is approaching as is documented safe work procedures for maintenance tasks. MBIE are signaling increased focus on these requirements in the review of regulations. Given our ongoing horrific rate of killing and maiming our workers it is hard to argue against.

Craig Carlyle is director at Maintenance Transformations. His expertise lies in the practical application of maintenance and health and safety management systems in the workplace. He is also a life member of the Maintenance Engineering Society of NZ.

The information and opinions within this column are not necessarily the views or opinions of Xpress Engineer NZ, NZ Engineering News or the parent company, Hayley Media.