Worker severely injured by agricultural machine

In June 2019, a worker suffered traumatic injuries to both arms after being trapped by a pulling winch. The winch was used on a vegetable growing farm to pull liners with compost from a shelf and unload onto a conveyor. Early indications are the man was working when, for reasons unknown, one of his hands got trapped by the machine. Whilst attempting to free his hand, the other one also got trapped.

Preventing a similar incident

There are significant risks associated with using fixed and mobile plant. Death or serious injury can result from its unsafe use or exposure to unguarded moving parts of machinery. A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) has duties under WHS legislation to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable the provision and maintenance of safe plant.

Hazards on agricultural plant and machinery that are likely to cause injury include:

  • rotating shafts, chains, drive belts, cables, pulleys or gears

  • the run-in points of belts, chains or cables

  • machine components that move, mix, cut, grind, pulp, crush, break or pulverise materials.

Managing work health and safety risks associated with plant is an ongoing process and involves four steps including: the identification of hazards, assessing risks, controls risks and then reviewing control measures to ensure they are working. Once the risks have been assessed, the next step is to control risks.

These control measures are ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest (hierarchy of control). The WHS Regulation 2011 requires PCBU’s to work through this hierarchy to choose the control that most effectively eliminates or, where that is not reasonably practicable, minimises the risk in the circumstances. You must always aim to eliminate a hazard, which is the most effective control. If this is not reasonably practicable, you must minimise the risk by one or a combination of the following:

  • Substitution – Substitute the plant (or hazardous parts of it) with plant that is safer.

  • Engineering controls – Include modifications to tools or equipment. For example, redesigning the electrical system to allow for the installation of emergency stop buttons within easy reach of operators of rural plant where entanglement may occur. Separate the hazardous plant from people either by distance or physical barrier. For example, a control measure, such as a hook, that provides a positive means of attaching the liner to the winch drum, so workers don’t have to reach in to the hazardous area, while the machine is running, to ensure the liner is correctly attached.

  • Administrative controls – If any risk remains, it must be minimised by implementing administrative controls, for example, carrying out an isolation and lock-out tag-out procedure before accessing any parts of the plant. An isolation procedure could include:

    • isolating the pulling winch from all energy sources that can cause harm

    • locking out all isolation points

    • dissipating or restraining any stored energy that may give rise to a hazard.

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) – Any remaining risk must be minimised with suitable PPE, such as providing workers with suitable clothing, protective eyewear and breathing protection.

Control measures should be reviewed regularly to ensure they are still working as planned. Common review methods include workplace inspections and consultation with workers.

If any issues are identified, revisit the risk management process and then make further decisions about control measures.