Company fined $60,000 over welding machinery crush injury

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A company in South Australia was recently sentenced and fined $60,000 over an incident in which a worker was seriously injured while operating a capacitor discharge welder.

The machine, which is used to weld components together using an electrical charge, damaged the worker’s hand so badly that the middle finger of his right hand ultimately had to be partially amputated.

It was only his second day operating the capacitor discharge welder machine.

The company, Syntec Diamond Tools International, was sentenced in the South Australian Employment Tribunal following the incident in May 2021 and a subsequent SafeWork SA investigation.

The company immediately recognised the capacitor discharge welder machine posed a risk to workers when it arrived in 2012 and made several engineering safety alterations over time to protect staff against crush injuries.

Despite this, in 2019 a worker suffered a crush injury on a capacitor discharge welder. An investigation revealed that he had overridden this safety feature by inserting a piece of plastic to hold down one of the buttons, so he only had to use one hand to activate a weld.

Syntec responded to this by further adjusting the engineering on the capacitor discharge welder, and this included the addition of a light guard to interrupt the weld if the beam across the front of the weld area was broken by anything including an operator’s hand or arm.

However, on the day of the May 2021 incident, the light guard setting changed to ‘off’, but there was no Safe Operating Procedure in place for pre-start checks for the machine.

Syntec was charged under section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 for failing in its duty to provide the worker with a safe system of work.

In her sentencing remarks, Deputy President Katherine Eaton said the incident was a direct result of the company’s inadequate engineering and administrative safety measures, including suitable training and testing of the light guard to ensure its proper operation.

She said a simple administrative measure would have alerted the operator that the light guard was not functioning.

“Nor was there any training … to check that the light guard was working before commencing any welds,” Deputy President Magistrate Eaton said.

“There was no supervision this early on his second day on the capacitor discharge welder, to follow up whether he was performing his tasks in the manner he was shown the previous day.”

Syntec has made further safety upgrades since the incident and has employed a full-time health and safety manager to ensure that all appropriate measures are taken to keep its workers safe.

A lack of attention to administrative risk controls was a significant failing which resulted in a serious injury and permanent harm to a worker, said SafeWork SA acting executive director, Rob Templeton.

“Crush injuries due to inadequately guarded machinery are a significant and ongoing problem,” said Templeton.

“It is not an aspirational goal, it is a legal requirement for persons conducting a business or undertaking to take all reasonable measures to ensure that work is conducted in a safe and healthy manner.”

Syntec was initially fined $100,000 but that was reduced to $60,000 following a 40 per cent discount for an early guilty plea. A conviction was also recorded.

The worker received income support and medical expenses under the Return to Work Act whilst he was unable to work due to his injury.