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Prosecution Details

Defendant Nathan McQuilkin
Section 20(1)(b) and 20(5)
Offence Date Thursday, 19 August 2004
Description of Breach(es)

Being an employee did not take reasonable care to avoid adversely affecting the safety or health of any other person through any act or omissions at work, and by that contravention caused serious harm to another person; contrary to sections 20(1)(b) and 20(5) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984.

Background Details

The Accused had previously completed a three-year traineeship in metal fabrication and was employed by a company as a foreman, and was responsible for supervising the work of an employee of the company who was a Second Class Welder.

The company fabricated shelving and other storage units at the Accused's and employee's workplace, which was in Jandakot. This work involved its employees using a machine called a brake press to bend large sheets of metal into the shapes needed to construct the storage units.

The brake press works by forming metal sheets (work pieces) between a fixed die and a blade that is driven down with force by a mechanism connected to a flywheel and clutch arrangement, activated by a foot pedal under the control of the operator. Upon completion of the downward bending stroke the blade normally returns to the up position. The blade can be set by use of pre-select controls to complete one full stroke upon activation of the pedal, continuous stroking if the pedal is kept depressed, or partial stroking, also known as inching, whereby intermittent pressure on the pedal caused the blade to descend in stages under the control of the operator. Release of the foot pedal in the latter mode would cause the blade to stop in whatever position it was in when the pedal was released.

The extent of the downward travel of the blade is adjustable by means of raise and lower buttons that control an electric motor on a threaded shaft arrangement between the flywheel and the blade. The trapping space created between the blade and the die, or the blade and the work piece when present, is protected by a steel mesh guard that should prevent the blade from being activated while the guard is open, and the guard from being opened while the blade is being activated.

To operate the brake press under any of the normal operating conditions, the operator is required to use both hands simultaneously to push two buttons on the operator's pedestal to activate two pneumatic rams that drive the steel mesh guard into the closed or down position. The guard in the closed position is designed to make contact with an interlock switch that allows activation of the blade when the trapping space is protected. The actual activation of the blade can only then be initiated by the operator by way of the foot pedal control at the base of the operator's pedestal. Should the guard not close into the down or safe position; it should not be possible to activate the downward stroke of the blade. The guarding system is also designed such that when the blade is being activated, it should not be possible to open the guard and allow access to the dangerous trapping space between the die and the blade, or the work piece and the blade.

On 18 August 2004 a service person was called to look at the brake press because it was not operating properly. The service person removed the pneumatic cylinder rams from the guarding system fitted to the brake press so that he could take them away and examine then for wear or faults. The service person told the Accused that the brake press should not be operated while the cylinder rams that operate the guard were being repaired, and the guard had been left in the down position with both the guarding system and the press inoperable.

During the next day, 19 August 2004, the employee asked the Accused to allow him to use the brake press. Initially the Accused resisted this request. However he then gave the employee some metal sheets to bend using the brake press. So that the employee could complete this work the Accused:
a.Turned on the brake press at the power point;
b. Tied the guard into the up position to allow access to, but not protect the trapping space between the blade and the die; and
c. Jammed a piece of wood onto the interlocking switch of the guarding system on the brake press so that it would operate without the guard in place to protect the trapping space.

The employee held the guard in the up position whilst the Accused tied it to the press so it would stay in the up position. The Accused then left the employee to operate the brake press on his own. While using the brake press that day the employee put his hands in the trapping space created by the blade and the die to remove a metal work piece that had just been bent. The blade descended while his hand was in the trapping space and four of the fingers on his right hand were trapped by the blade, which stopped in the down position.

The employee called out to another employee who ran over to the brake press and pressed the button on it marked raise. The button allegedly did not work and the employee's fingers remained trapped under the blade. They could not find the Accused. The Accused then heard his name being called and walked over to the brake press where he found the employee with his hand trapped in the press.

The Accused did not know how to free the employee's fingers so he arranged for the Assistant Manager to telephone the service company and ask for one of their employees to attend and assist in releasing the employee's fingers from the brake press.

A few minutes later a service person arrived and together with the Accused, raised the blade of the brake press to release the employee's fingers. His fingers had been caught in the brake press for between five and ten minutes. He was taken to hospital where four of the fingers on his right hand were amputated. Two of the fingers were amputated at the bottom knuckle and two were amputated slightly above the bottom knuckle.

The Accused pleaded guilty however there was a trial regarding some of the facts relevant to the case.

Outcome Summary Convicted
Conviction Date 07 Jun 2006
Court Magistrates Court of Western Australia - Fremantle
Fine $5,000
Costs $1,200
Charge Number 9888/05