VIC: VCAT Overrules WorkCover Order

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) has overruled a WorkCover order recommending that Warrnambool City Council fit a safety control bar to a wood chipper involved in a workplace accident.

Last September, a parks and gardens worker lost both hands while feeding tree limbs into the mobile wood chipper at Bushfield.

The Victorian WorkCover Authority issued an improvement notice suggesting that the council install a safety bump-bar across the bottom of the machine’s tailgate.

The council took the case to the VCAT arguing the improvement notice should be set aside, saying the safety features of the chipper and the systems it had implemented reduced risk “so far as is reasonably practicable”.

The council said there had never been a safety bump-bar fitted on the particular model and there was no direct evidence that one would prevent the hazards or risks associated with wood chippers.

WorkCover urged VCAT to affirm the notice, saying it was appropriate. The cost to fit the bar was estimated at between $ 1100 and $ 3300. WorkCover said the retro-fitting of a safety bar might not remove all risks associated with the machine, but could provide a further safeguard for operators. It told VCAT that bump-bars were available and in use and were now a standard feature on some new machines.

VCAT deputy president Heather Lambrick delivered her finding this month after hearing evidence from a range of experts over four days in May.

Ms Lambrick said while the machine could probably be retro-fitted with a safety bar, she was not satisified it would be a suitable way of reducing the risk of harm.

The council gave an undertaking to ensure two workers were always present when the chipper went back into operation — one responsible for operating the controls and the other putting branches into the feed-in chute.

“I consider that these are commendable additional safeguards that have been put in place by the WCC,” Ms Lambrick said.

“I find that there is still robust discussion to be had in relation to the efficacy of safety bump-bars in reducing the hazard or risk associated with wood chippers.

“Perhaps, in time it will be established that a safety bump bar will assist in the reduction of risk, but that is no more than speculation and, on the current evidence, I cannot be satisfied.”

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