By Craig Carlyle, director at Maintenance Transformations

The sentencing of Christchurch meat manufacturer Hellers Limited is a good reminder of the importance of following the current health and safety guidelines for machinery and guarding.

Hellers were fined $193,500 and ordered to pay $60,000 in reparation to the employee after the worker lost four fingers in a machine that had been unsafely adapted.

Had the company followed the WorkSafe NZ Best Practice Guidelines, the poor outcomes, employee injury and legal action would have been avoided.

The Best Practice Guidelines outlines the potential hazards from using machinery in the workplace, injuries that could result and how best to control these hazards. Case Law highlights where PCBU’s have got it wrong:

  • no guarding at all
  • guards not securely fastened and easily removed
  • openings in guards
  • guards removed for maintenance and not replaced
  • interlocked guards that can open while parts are still moving or running down
  • interlock switches removed or overridden
  • light beam devices switched off
  • interlock guards used as a shortcut to start the machine
  • ineffective lock-out and isolation of power systems

The guideline covers the entire life cycle of a machine, from design to manufacture, supply, buying, installation, use, maintenance, modification, and decommissioning.

Common hazards found when working with or near machinery are well covered, along with the processes of hazard and risk assessment, and the application of controls to eliminate, isolate or minimise the hazard. If guards are called for, the types of machine guards (fixed, interlocked, push away) are described along with other controls such as reach consideration, power controls two handed controls, presence sensing devices, locks, emergency stops and isolation procedures. A practical flowchart provides a guide to choosing the right guard for the situation.

Developing safe use procedures is well covered, emphasising consultation and communication between health and safety personnel, employers and operators, as well as training and supervision.

Safe systems of work are also covered off. Safe system of work means “the steps which if followed, will minimise the hazard arising from doing a specific task or set of tasks, as far as practicable.” Businesses are required to have safe systems of work in place for tasks and processes that consider the hazards and controls, human factors, emergency management, people management, the work environment, and correct use of tools and plant. The guide also provides a clear process to follow when guarding is not an option, addressing the Achilles heel of most machine safety arguments.

The guide shows that machine safety is a topic for the entire operation, and not just for the engineers. It aptly guides the reader through the topic in an easy-read format. Training is available for the Best Practise Guide and this is recommended to imbed confidence and competence in the subject. Involving representatives from across the operation reinforces the message that this is a business wide responsibility that requires management input for the long term.

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.