Company pleads guilty to safety breaches involving pneumatic slide-gate

A company has pleaded guilty in the South Australian Employment Tribunal (SAET) for breaches of section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA).

In October 2020, a worker suffered fatal injuries after being crushed and asphyxiated by a pneumatic slide-gate.

The workers at the facility were periodically required to clean and maintain the surge bin of a pellet press. Access to the interior of the surge bin was possible through an access hole covered by a hatch that could be opened without tools and was not interlocked. Materials fed into the surge bin from two other bins were controlled by a pneumatic slide-gate, which, when open, moved to cover the access hole.

Parts of the pellet press, including the pneumatic slide-gate, could be operated remotely from a control room, posing a risk to any worker accessing the surge bin while the slide-gate was operational. There was a danger of workers being struck or crushed by the pneumatic slide-gate.

On the day of the incident, the worker attempted to clean a build-up of mash at the bottom of the surge bin. Despite following instructions to ask the press operator to close off the airline to the hydraulic gate, the air supply closure failed to isolate the slide-gate, which then activated.

The company was found to have exposed workers to serious injury or death by failing to ensure, as far as was reasonably practicable, a safe work environment. Specifically, it was possible for a worker to access the inside of the surge bin while the pneumatic slide-gate was operational, and there was no adequate hazard identification and risk assessment process in place.

The SAET convicted the company and imposed a fine of $650,000, reduced to $390,000 after a discount for an early guilty plea, plus legal fees.