People who know a process is unsafe but don't act to fix it
Forum members might find
this recent UK prosecution
to be a useful conversation starter when discussing the ethics of health & safety, particularly with those managers who struggle to grasp that their responsibilities include the need to act with urgency when they have been told a process is unsafe.
A machine operator died when he entered a blocked baler, which re-started while he was still inside.
The baler used to have an interlock to prevent this, but a technician had disarmed it because some wiring had been damaged, possibly by rats. Knowing that this modification left the machine unsafe to use, he emailed management to warn them about it.
The bypassed interlock continued to feature on daily defect reports that circulated to management, but the company continued to run the modified baler for another five years before the fatal incident.
In court, the email trail proving management knew about the defective machine helped convict the company and its owner, who was jailed.
Somewhat closer to home, reading the Stumpmaster case (Stumpmaster, Tasman Tanning, Niagara Sawmilling) which has established the penalty setting bands for HSAW Act sentencing) it was found that two of the Companies appealing their penalties knew of defects in their working arrangements / conditions yet failed to act appropriately to remedy the defects.
In one case there was a preceding similar accident; in the other the company had received competent advice on how to remedy a defect but chose not to, without providing any rationale for that decision, and an i9njury accident subsequently occurred.
The result in both cases meant the appeals were lost, the penalties re-affirmed (fortunately [?] not increased), with the circumstances influencing the High Court's determinations around mitigating vs aggravating factors.
When there is hard (documented) evidence of failures / defects / non-compliance, and practicable steps are available to mitigate the risk prior to any incident occurring, there is justifiably no real wriggle room left, and nor should there be.
Not acting on this "guilty knowledge" not only puts workers at risk but can also start to erode what your safety standards are.
This reminds me of a
similar incident from the UK
which saw a motor vehicle worker killed when he crawled through a hole to gain access to an otherwise fenced (guard) area. The hazard was identified and flagged up during the Risk Assessment process but no action was taken.
In addition to the above,
this horrific case
shows that human error is just a problem for those working on the shop floor, Machinery Risk Assessments should begin at the design phase and follow through to build, commissioning and use.
Knowing about a risk but not acting to fix it is inexcusable. It is also likely to result in prosecution for a "reckless" offence where the maximum penalty is a $3m fine (and imprisonment for individuals). At a minimum, WorkSafe will expect to see a duty holder take some interim steps (even if just signage and training) while a long-term solution is planned and implemented.
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