Manual Safe design and construction of machinery: regulation, practice, and performance

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His death was completely preventable. The subsequent WorkSafe and Coroner's report found no hazard identification had been undertaken before the plant was commissioned, the emergency stops were not properly labelled, the company had not provided adequate information nor training regarding the machine's safe use and the level of its supervision was inadequate.

Across Australia all works health and safety laws require designers and manufacturers to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable that machinery is designed and manufactured to be without risks to health and safety and to provide adequate and up to date information about the machinery.

Delivering safety by design and construction

Yet the story I've just told you and data from Safe Work Australia tells us that the poor designed machinery continues to kill and injure workers. A recent Safe Work Australia report reveals work-related deaths were possibly caused by the unsafe design of machinery between and Our research also tells us that involving experienced workers in the design and testing process before machinery enters the workplace results in better work health and safety outcomes for workers. We should and we must do better.

So I am delighted that today our speakers will discuss this important topic. Peter Dunphy has over 25 years' experience in public health and work health and safety and is currently completing a doctorate of Public Health with the University of New South Wales. Welcome Peter. He is a certified practising professional and has 30 years' experience in industries such as agriculture, manufacturing and the legal and commerce sectors. Wes provides specialist consultancy services for the design and manufacture of machinery and is regularly called as an expert witness in major work health and safety prosecutions.

Welcome Wes. Liz has over 30 years' experience in research, policy, legislation and management of work health and safety. Welcome Liz.

How do I...

Last but not least, let me introduce my old friend, today's Facilitator Bryan Russell. He's the former Executive Director of SafeWork South Australia and of course a Member of Safe Work Australia and played a key role in the introduction of national work health and safety legislation and national uniform mine safety laws and explosives legislation. Thank you Andrew and thank you everyone for joining us in the audience today and for those joining online.

For those who are joining online I invite you to tweet any comments or questions that you may have in the course of discussion. You can do that through our live chat facility or through the virtualWHS. Just on that I'll add that at the end of today's broadcast we will be providing an additional period of time where the speakers stay behind to answer any additional questions online that we didn't resolve through the course of discussion today.

I would like to take just a moment to reflect on some of the introductory comments that Andrew made and regrettably the tragic story that Andrew told us about today is all too common. The fact that we have almost deaths over a five year period related to unsafe machinery and poorly designed machinery is alarming. For that reason the elimination and minimisation of hazards at the design stage is a priority in the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy. In that sense Safe Work Australia Members are united in their efforts to elevate safety in design as a national action area and that underscores the discussion that we're having here today.

People often bandy about expressions about safe design and safe machinery but they're not really sure at times what that means. What I would like to do today is to explore that a little bit further and I'll start off with you Peter as a regulator. What's your understanding of safe design and safe machinery? Well Bryan, I think as regulators we can often have lofty ideals but I think it can be explained really quite simply that for us really safe design is about thinking ahead.

It's really about thinking through the whole lifecycle of the plant that you're dealing with, thinking about the sorts of things that can injure you along the way of use of that plant and really then going through a harm prevention process of really ensuring that you identify what the hazards are that arise out of the lifecycle of the plant and then ensuring that you either eliminate those or control those and that you also ensure that you risk communicate, so that you provide appropriate information around the actual item of plant, whether that be safe operating procedures or whether that can be in terms of training.

I guess from a regulatory perspective that's how we see it. I don't know Liz from an academic perspective whether the literature characterises it any differently to that but certainly that's how we certainly see it. Yes I think that Peter's highlighted some important principles with that and I think one of the main things that works well in terms of improving safety at the design stage is for those who are involved in designing and manufacturing to be very conscious of the different ways in which machinery can be hazardous.

That might seem like a fairly obvious point but for a lot of people safety of machinery starts and finishes with mechanical hazards and the issue of guarding but there are a lot of other ways in which machinery can be hazardous. So it can be hazardous in terms of different aspects of the structure or the power sources that are used that raise safety issues.

There may be ergonomic issues related to the working positions and postures of people or perhaps the design of controls which might be poor so that they're hard to interpret. There can be problems of noise, vibration, substances that are used in or produced by machinery and there can also be issues related to access. It's something that's really quite commonly overlooked is whether people can get easy access without slip, trip, fall problems onto or into where they have to be working with machinery.

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So I guess the pitfall there is when people have a bit of a narrow focus on certain types of issues and don't properly recognise the range of problems that there can be with machinery. And I think commissioning and decommissioning plants is a really important aspect too which often gets overlooked in terms of that, in terms of safe design. Thanks Peter and thanks Liz for that as well. Peter in terms of the laws how is safe design covered in the work health and safety laws and what are the legal duties that apply to people who are responsible?

Well safe design is rarely picked up. It is really a cornerstone of our work health and safety legislation. So in terms of the primary duty holders of the person conducting the business or undertaking it is a critical component of their ensuring work health and safety and ensuring the safety of the workers. So the maintenance and ongoing provision of safe plant at the workplace is a really important aspect. It also follows on to the further duties which are in the work health and safety legislation and that sort of tracks through the lifecycle of whether it's the designer who has duties, whether it's the manufacturer, the importer, the supplier, someone who's in control of plant or whoever's installing or decommissioning the plant.

So it's a really broad range of duties that are covered across there and it's a very comprehensive duty and a very important feature of our other than safety legislation. So the laws cover all aspects with respect to safety in design from the actual design process through to commissioning and the operation of the equipment itself? So it really is about trying to make sure that we do have consideration to safety in all aspects of the lifecycle of the item of plants, and it really is about ensuring that those are considered very much at the design phase but also during the life of the plant in terms of that and ensuring that all duty holders and I shouldn't forget other duty holders such as directors and workers and others also have duties under the legislation to ensure that they follow instructions, that there's due diligence in terms of directors, in terms of the plant at a workplace.

So it's a very broad range in duties and again I guess the other point is that those duties are often shared too amongst different people whether it's the PCBU , the supplier, the manufacturer and the designer. So often they can be overlapped in terms of those duties. So it is really important in terms of the legislative framework that there is good coordination and cooperation amongst duty holders.

Liz I might just come back to you in terms of what works well for designers and manufacturers in this space and you mentioned the range of issues that they need to consider.

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Would you like to expand on that a little? Well I guess the next step in that is recognising that there is that sort of range of different ways in which machinery can be hazardous is for those who are designing and manufacturing machinery to also be well informed about the different options that are available in terms of the control or risk control in order to address those different types of hazards.

So really being familiar with what the different options might be is important to underpin that aspect of designing things to be safer in the first instance. So I suppose another important point to sort of underline in all of this is that what we're trying to encourage is making machinery inherently safer and so that can be a bit of a pitfall if people tend to see machinery safety as being about providing warning signs or devices, whether it's flashing lights on machinery or beeps or something like that. That can be an important part as supplementary measures if you like for risk control to help further minimise risks but if you look at that they're not fundamentally dealing with the actual hazards of the machinery.

They're still about trying to get people to work safely around the machinery while not actually controlling the fundamental hazards and so that point about making it inherently safer I think is a really fundamental one. It's a really difficult thing to do though I think in old plant. One of the things regulators and I'm sure Wes you experience this too is that in terms of older plant there's always that issue about retrofitting and how do you make old plant inherently safe and whether retrofitting can actually do that.

But yes.

Actually we might come to you Wes on that point now and as a consultant designer for manufacturers can you tell us please a little about what you do in practice and why safety and design of machinery is really so important in workplaces? I think Peter hit the nail on the head that it's basically from start to finish or cradle to grave. So I assist industry with safe design of machinery from inception to disposal effectively. Ensuring regulatory compliance is one of the most critical steps but it's understanding that relationship and what is regulatory compliance from a manufacturer or employer's point of view.

The interpretation of that differs from each business to the next one because the legislation really gears your control and your safe design of machinery to your process and the way that you're using it, your machinery, the way that you're applying it, installing it, operating it and so on. So I assist with the risk assessment process and that's something that we've had a lot of I suppose trouble with in the industry.

Simplistic risk assessment is commonly done on not complex plant but basic plant. But the more complex the machinery, the more complex the process, the more complex the risk assessment has to be because you have to capture all of these aspects of designing, operating, maintaining, cleaning, disposing, decommissioning and so on.

If you don't get those captured in the risk assessment process you can't possibly move on to what is the most critical step which is your risk control design.

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I spend so much time in the risk control design area because that's where we get the paybacks. If we can put in — and one of the things that people do in industry is they do the process of risk assessment very badly because they don't have the skill sets within their reference groups when they're trying to find that information on the process out, from task and so on and disposal, maintenance and so on.

So they don't have the skill sets in there. People don't have that knowledge to know where to go with the process. So they see it as I think Liz mentioned before, a simplistic mechanical hazard and will deal with that as a mechanical hazard. But what should the risk control for that be?

So they don't have the depth of knowledge to understand and explore the risk assessment process. So in summary on more complex processes we don't do that risk assessment process particularly well. So that's where I usually get involved and start getting people thinking about "How do we go about this process to get something meaningful out of it?

Had that document been done? Well if it had been done was it done properly? Did it explore all the hazards and risks and task-related issues? I'd answer that no at this point because we need to probably inject a little bit of skill there. But then we look at risk control development and risk control development is where I get my job satisfaction because we're talking about trying to change a culture in industry from a lowest cost solution.

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A simplistic answer to trying to get people to almost — we're trying to change their culture, we're trying to twist their minds but we're trying to aim also for senior executive so that we can make that critical link between good design, better design of and safe design of machinery and the bottom line of the business. Now Wes you mentioned some of the challenges faced by manufacturers and designers in this space and you've had a lot of experience in this.

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What are some of the unexpected benefits that you've derived from working directly with these people? The unexpected benefits — I mean I'll give a case study. I've worked in the timber industry quite a lot and it's a very difficult industry and it has the highest industry levy rates. It has woeful statistics, horrific injuries and it's pretty much on par with the meat industry as well.

Now those two industries have done a lot of work in recent times to try and lift their game and I've worked with a hardwood timber mill and they took a different approach.