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Shredder was an accident waiting to happen

6 December 2006

Shredder that claimed worker’s limbs an accident waiting to happen

The horrific injuries suffered by a New Plymouth shredder operator earlier this year are a stark reminder to employers that workplace health and safety must be taken seriously, the Department of Labour says.

Manawatu Waste Ltd employee Christopher Fromont had his legs and an arm amputated after he was dragged into the cutting discs of the company’s green waste shredder.

The company was today fined $10,000 and ordered to pay reparations of $30,000 after being convicted and sentenced for failing to take all practicable steps to ensure that Mr Fromont was not exposed to hazards arising out of the operation of the shredder.

The Department, which investigated the incident and charged the company under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, found that the shredder was not adequately guarded, nor were there documented standard operating procedures for the shredder.

Workplace services manager for Taranaki Brett Murray described the machine as “a disaster waiting to happen”.

There was insufficient guarding to ensure operators could not access the dangerous parts of the machine while it was operating. This was exacerbated by the fact that it was often necessary for operators to enter the hopper of the shredder to unjam the cutting discs.

It was while attempting to clear a blockage on 22 February that Mr Fromont got his foot caught in the rotating cutting discs, and was dragged into them. Members of the public heard him calling for help and raised the alarm. The shredder was able to be stopped, however Mr Fromont was trapped in the cutting discs for more than an hour. Two of his limbs had to be amputated in order to free him.

“While there were a number of methods which could be used for removing a blockage from the cutting discs, Mr Fromont thought that the only way to unblock a jam was to get into the hopper of the shredder while the cutting discs were going and try and move the blockage with his feet, which was clearly not a safe practice,” Mr Murray said.

“He advised the Department that he would climb into the hopper of the shredder while the cutting discs were operating ‘about every second time’ he used it.

“With the best of intentions, Mr Fromont appears to have adopted this extremely dangerous work method by default, as he could see no other way of unjamming the cutting discs. There were no documented guidelines or procedures for clearing blockages, which should have been a given for this type of operation.”

Manawatu Waste Ltd had identified issues with the guarding of the shredder as far back as June 2004, Mr Murray said. The company’s health and safety contract manager had at that time raised concerns about access and guarding, and recommended modifications to make it safe for employees and also members of the public, who would deposit material in the hopper for composting. None of the recommended modifications had been made as at the time of the accident.

Following the incident at Manawatu Waste Ltd, the Department inspected dozens of industrial shredders around the country. At two sites, in Wellington and Auckland, guarding issues for shredders and conveyors were found and urgent improvements were ordered.

“Employers must never take it for granted that employees know the right or safe way to carry out tasks,” Mr Murray said. “The more dangerous the work activity, the more vigilant they must be to build a culture of safe work practices.”

Under the HSE Act, most employees have the right to refuse to carry out work they believe on reasonable grounds is likely to cause them serious harm.


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