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Safety technology provides assurance to abattoir workers 02 Nov 2015

Safety technology is providing assurance for employees in the Australian meat processing sector, while reducing lost production time and compensation claims from injuries. 

Southern Meats, based at Goulburn in southern New South Wales have invested in several BladeStop™ bandsaws.  

Southern Meats OH&S Manager Claire Graham said four major incidents in five years involving traditional bandsaws resulted in 827 hours of lost time, and more than $100,000 in worker compensation claims.

“In one incident, the employee lost partial movement in his thumb, while another required a skin graft,” Ms Graham said.

“In contrast, the only incident on a BladeStop™ bandsaw resulted in a small cut on the operator’s thumb which was dealt with at our on-site medical centre and the employee was back at work straight away.” 

In 2012-13, Safe Work Australia statistics show there were 95 accepted workers compensation claims and $400,000 paid in compensation due to powered saws in Australia’s meat and meat product manufacturing industry.

This new technology has been designed to mechanically stop the bandsaw blade within 15 milliseconds when the unit senses that a person has come in contact with the blade. 

The units have been developed by Scott Automation & Robotics with funding from Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) and the Australian Meat Processor Corporation (AMPC). As part of their commitment to improving work health and safety (WHS) outcomes in the industry, both Research and Development Corporations are part of the Primary Industries Health and Safety Partnership (PIHSP).

Southern Meats process 3,000-5,000 lambs per day and employ about 320 staff members, depending on the season. The majority of the meat is exported to North America as well as the European Union and Muslim countries, while domestically they process lambs for Costco Australia.   

They were one of the first abattoirs in Australia to be approached by MLA about 11 years ago to become directly involved in the research and development of BladeStop™. 

Ms Graham says prior to the new technology it was hard to encourage people to learn how to operate the bandsaw.

“Nobody wants to learn a more dangerous job that can potentially cause amputation of fingers and loss of income - which can lead to added stress for those that have families. Now a lot more staff members are interested in learning the ropes on the new bandsaws.” 

Southern Meats employee Fred McGregor is living testament to the potential dangers of the conventional bandsaw.

“I severed a tendon in my thumb when the blade went through the top part of my knuckle while I was cutting a sheep spine. I’m now back at work and using both types of machines, and think the new technology is amazing. It gives all of us a greater sense of confidence,” Mr McGregor said.

“You put on a belt which is attached to the bandsaw - it’s like a wire circuit and you become the relay. As soon as you come into contact with the blade, the machine reacts, pushes the ram out, grabs the blade and stops it instantly. 

“You feel a lot safer. You feel confident that you’re not going to have a more severe injury, and therefore you know you’ll get home to your family at the end of the day in one piece.”

The PIHSP aims to deliver healthy, safe and productive working lives in the primary industries through RD&E investment. It is funded by the Cotton, Grains and Rural Industries Research and Development Corporations, as well as MLA and AMPC. For more information visit www.rirdc.gov.au/PIHSP.