Record $2.1 million fine over apprentice’s serious head injury  

Dennis Jones Engineering Pty Ltd and sole director Dennis Jones were sentenced in the Melbourne County Court yesterday after earlier pleading guilty to a single charge each under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The company was convicted and fined a record $2.1 million for recklessly engaging in conduct that placed a person in danger of serious injury.

Jones was convicted and fined $140,000 for failing to provide or maintain safe systems of work by failing to take reasonable care as an officer of the company. He was also ordered to complete a Community Corrections Order of five years duration with a condition to complete 600 hours of unpaid community work.

In October 2021, Jones directed the 20-year-old apprentice to use a plastic sleeve to steady lengths of steel pipe that he was threading on a lathe at the company’s Morwell workshop.

The apprentice was holding the plastic sleeve on the end of a pipe that protruded nearly 1.5 metres from the rear spindle of the lathe and was struck when the pipe bent and whipped. He was placed in an induced coma, airlifted to hospital and underwent surgery for serious head injuries.

A WorkSafe investigation found Jones should have been aware of the risk and that it was reasonably practicable to ensure that covers were fixed to the lathe to prevent pipes that protruded from being threaded, or that a fixed steady was used to support such pipes and an exclusion zone used to restrict access to the danger area near the pipe.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said overhanging work pieces were a well-known safety risk when using lathes.

“It is incredibly frustrating that this employer had several control measures to eliminate or reduce the risk available but simply chose not to use them,” Dr Beer said.

“The significant penalties for this company and director reflect the life-altering impact this devastating incident has had on a vulnerable apprentice who was at the very start of his career.”

To manage risks when using metal turning lathes, duty holders should:

  • Install appropriate guarding to prevent employees from being struck by projectiles or becoming entangled in moving or protruding parts such as drive mechanisms, lead and feed screws, chucks and the workpiece.
  • Ensure chucks, faceplates, couplings and clamps are compatible with the lathe and designed so there are no catch points, and worn or damaged tools are removed and not used.
  • When oversize workpieces are machined, ensure a bar feeder or fixed/travelling steady is used to support protruding pieces, or modify lathe speeds to ensure protruding pieces do not bend.
  • Create a restricted zone around the lathe operator and use suitable barriers and signage to stop employees from unnecessarily entering the work area, including the area around any oversize workpiece.
  • Ensure suitably identified controls, including an emergency stop button/pedal, are within easy access of operator and away from the working zone.
  • Ensure all operators are appropriately trained and competent before beginning work.
  • Provide employees with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as steel-capped boots and safety glasses and ensure no gloves or loose-fitting clothing is worn when operating or cleaning the lathe.

/Public Release. View in full here.