The Canberra Times website recently carried an enlightening story on the consequences of workplace hazards when the proper controls are not put in place and workers are not engaged in to the safety process.
The article was based on a young man, Jeff Olsson who at the age of 21 had a life changing experience while working at a concrete pipe manufacturer in Fyshwick.
The incident which resulted in the largest legal fine against a company over an industrial accident also almost cost Mr Olsson his arm. The most chilling part about the story is that the victim predicted such an occurrence only a few months earlier, yet nothing was done to mend the holes in the company’s safety controls. Olsson was just 21 at the time.
The accident happened when the worker was pouring concrete moulds and a tip of his glove became caught on a conveyor belt, causing his entire arm to become stuck between 2 huge rollers of the machine. The safety stop button was on the left side of the machine and the worker’s left arm was trapped in the machine, so he was not able to push the button in time.
Even his screams went undetected for a while because workers were wearing ear protection against the sound of the operations. It took a minute or 2 before anyone heard his cries and switched the machine off. However it was too late. It took a further 15 minutes before the rollers were removed and the man’s arm freed.
The article on CanberraTimes.com.au goes on to explain,
Miraculously, his skin did not break and there was not a drop of blood. But the limb that was finally freed had been pulverised and broken into a Z-shape. He suffered extensive internal bleeding from the crushed arteries.
He was rushed to hospital – unconscious. There, Mr Olsson’s family were told he would undergo surgery to amputate the limb.
But thanks to the tenacity and skill of orthopaedic surgeon Katherine Gordiev – who painstakingly pieced together what was left of his shattered arm and retracted the severed arteries from up in his armpit to restore the blood flow – he was spared the horror of losing it altogether. ”I owe Dr Gordiev a huge amount. Honestly, I can’t even put it into words,” Mr Olsson said.
Today, he has a constant reminder of the day, with burn scars on the top of his arm from the roller and
surgical scars from five separate operations on the underside. He spent a year in a sling recovering and several years in physiotherapy.
Ironically Olsson was an OH&S rep at the company and had conducted risk assessments several months earlier when he determined that there was such a risk, only to become its victim shortly after. He says there were inadequate guards on the belt which he told his employer was “an accident waiting to happen”. Sadly these warnings went unnoticed and it cost the company the biggest fine.
Other employers can learn a very valuable lesson from this, to not ignore the warnings of employees. Workers are the ones coming into contact with hazards each day, listen to them, heed their warnings and suggestions especially when it comes to safety.