Employer fined 250k for failing to provide training to work experience student: Employment Law Update

A recent employment law update has highlighted the importance of training new employees in Workplace Health and Safety (WHS). Safety in the workplace is a serious issue, with over 30 000 major workplace injuries, and 60 fatalities, reported to SafeWork NSW in 2015-16 alone. Employers need to ensure that all workers, including work experience students, are trained and understand WHS policies and procedures, or risk serious legal penalties. This is what happened to a Coffs Harbour manufacturing company, which was recently fined $250,000 for failing to meet WHS legislation requirements.

The facts: SafeWork NSW v Thermal Electric Elements Pty Ltd [2017] NSWDC 62

In August 2014, a student was undertaking work experience at Thermal Electric Elements Pty Ltd when he was involved in a major incident which resulted in having two finger tips amputated. The student had been removing metal strips from a brake press when he accidentally activated the machine’s knife, resulting in the tips of two of his fingers being crushed. The company was charged with a breach of s32/19(1) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) for failing to comply with a health and safety duty.

SafeWork NSW alleged that the company failed to provide adequate guarding on the brake press machine. Their investigation found that the business had adjusted a setting on the machine’s guarding system that would have prevented the machine from operating when objects such as arms and hands were in the vicinity. The investigation also found there was a general lack of instruction, training, information and supervision provided to the work experience student.

The result

Thermal Electric Elements Pty Ltd was fined $250, 000 in the NSW District Court. The Court found that the company had not trained, assessed or tested the student’s competency before allowing him to operate the brake press machine unsupervised. They identified a number of WHS failures by the company, including:

  • The student was only given a ‘general’ induction by a trade qualified toolmaker. The machinery training was conducted by an unqualified sheet metal fabricator who had only been employed for 7.5 weeks;
  • The student was not provided with a step by step procedure for the safe operation or use of the machine including appropriate settings and positioning;
  • The student’s competency was not tested before he was allowed to operate the machine;
  • The risk of injury and the risk of the type of injury suffered by the student ranked extremely high on the scale of foreseeability.

Checklist for Employers

This tragic incident serves as a reminder of the grave consequences of not complying with WHS legislation. Employers must be vigilant in promoting workplace safety, and:

  • Ensure that all workers are trained and understand WHS policies and procedures. For example, when it comes to machinery, workers must be trained to assess the possible risks before, during and after operating machinery and be well versed in the preparing and complying with the SafeWork Method Statements (SWMS) applicable to their task;
  • Use machinery only according to the manufacturer’s instructions, for example keeping guards in place; and
  • Provide adequate and ongoing supervision for all workers, especially vulnerable workers such as work experience students where the risk of injury is heightened due to lack of experience.

If you’re unsure on whether you have adequate safety measures in place at your workplace, contact an experienced employment law solicitor.

Want to know more about employment law? Please don’t hesitate to contact one of our experienced solicitors at Butlers Business and Law on (02) 492907002 or fill out an enquiry form on our website.

Image: ‘Caution Labels’ by Roy Montgomery available at Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.