Use power tools safely

Early this year, SafeWork inspectors attended an incident in southwest Sydney after a 15-year-old construction worker got severe lacerations to his thigh, down to the bone, while using a circular saw to cut lengths of timber. It was his first day on the job.

Power tools come in various shapes, sizes, voltages and varieties. Yet, irrespective of the size of the tool or how it’s powered, the principles of safe use apply equally to all.

First, remember that a power tool’s effectiveness is proportional to your level of training in using the tool, as well as your diligence in following safety guidelines.

Before starting any job, go through a pre-start process and ensure everyone who is using power tools is trained and competent. And always check to make sure tools are in good working order.

Keep your hands and feet away from moving parts, keep others a safe distance away, and wear the correct personal protective equipment for the job.

Finally, employers and experienced workers need to ensure new and young workers receive the correct training and supervision.

Watch this short video by the Roofing Tile Association of Australia.

Get it right: ask an inspector

Based in St. Mary’s, Enviro Pallets manufactures timber pallets. It’s a small business, with just six full time workers – plus a handful of labour hire workers from Ability Options, an agency that supports people with disabilities.

Manufacturing pallets is a high risk industry and, following a request for service, a SafeWork inspector visited the premises and met with Mark Duffin, the factory manager, to offer some health and safety advice.

‘The workplace had a number of safety hazards,’ said Cris Jelley, Assistant State Inspector.

‘These included issues relating to poor housekeeping, machine guarding, traffic management, forklift safety, and handling and storage of hazardous chemicals.’

‘I issued numerous improvement notices,’ said Mr Jelley.

Regardless the severity of the notices, Mr Duffin saw it as a wake-up call and, over the next three months, he encouraged and welcomed further interactions with Mr Jelley.

Mr Duffin organised a massive clean-up of the workplace, fixed his chemical issues, fitted and improved guarding on machinery, improved traffic management, made walkways for pedestrians, issued personal protective equipment to everyone and, most importantly, sought his workers’ input on safety improvements.

‘The improvements have made my business safer and more productive,’ said Mr Duffin.

‘I have realised through your help, Cris, that it is more beneficial to be proactive than reactive, and I thank you for that – never too old to learn.’

Take care of young workers

Workplace injury statistics can be a real worry – particularly when it comes to young workers.

Not only does research indicate that 15 to 25 year olds have a 75 per cent greater chance of being injured at work, but in NSW alone, 15 workers in this age group are injured every day.

The top incidents causing injury to young workers are manual handling, slips, trips and falls, being hit by or hitting moving objects, and falls from height. The most common injuries are sprains, strains and fractures, burns, open wounds, bruising and crushing – with hand injuries topping the list.

A contributing factor is often an inability to recognise and cope with potential hazards, which requires knowledge, skills and experience only achieved after months or years on the job. Considering your junior workers might be students doing part-time or casual work, they can be at a disadvantage.

But the good news is that you can help make a difference by drumming safe work practices and behaviours into young workers from day one. While all new workers must receive sufficient training, supervision and support to be able to work safely, younger workers may require more attention.

Ensure they fully understand your workplace safety induction and encourage them to ask questions about anything they are unsure about.

Partner them with a more experienced co-worker to act as a ‘work buddy’ and provide support and advice.

Finally, get them to check out how simple safety can be.

Know it, own it, work it

If you’re between 15 and 25 and you’re working or looking for work – firstly, good on you for getting out there, and secondly, take a moment to think about how to keep the pressure off, stay on track and in control of your mental health.

Knowing the facts around injury rates, your rights at work, and types of support services can mean the difference between a rough start and a smooth one (so don’t brain dump all of the below!).

The stats:

  • In the three years between 2011/12 and 2013/14, over 45,000 young workers aged between 15 and 24 years old were hurt at work in NSW.
  • For 15-19 year olds injury rates could be six times higher because young workers often don’t report work injuries.
  • 18-24 year olds have a higher prevalence of mental illness than any other age group.
    If you’re going to get a lifelong mental illness, 50% of illnesses will start before 14 years of age.
  • When you’re young (up to your mid-20s), your still-developing brain means you’re also more vulnerable to mental illness.
  • If you get injured at work the likelihood of mental illness increases.
  • Here’s another downer: young people are also at a higher risk of getting hurt at work.

But now’s the time to crack a grimace because, let’s face it, being young is awesome when you’re on track.

You possess loads of energy, high-def emotions, an insatiable appetite for life – or just an insatiable appetite, and a plentiful supply of collagen. Just saying.

You’ve also got loads of support services available to help you cope when things get tough. And sometimes they do. Really tough.

Take David Finnimore for example. He was just 19 years old when he was involved in a catastrophic incident, resulting in the amputation of his right arm.

He was working as a general hand/labourer when the incident occurred.

“I remember walking to the area that I was assigned to. I heard someone call my name, so I turned around and that’s when my jumper sleeve got caught between a conveyer belt and a roller,” David said.

“I remember an immense amount of pain and then everything went cold.

“I’d say I was trapped for around 20 minutes plus.”

As colleagues and emergency workers worked to free him, David said his recollection of the incident has left emotional scars that are unlikely to fade.

“I saw my arm in a bag. It was amputated at the site. That’s not something I’ll ever forget,” he said.

David was taken to Liverpool Public Hospital where he underwent multiple surgeries in an effort to reattach his severed arm.

The procedures unfortunately failed, leaving no choice but to surgically amputate.

Months of rehabilitation then followed, with David having to re-learn basic movements.

He started slowly by learning to contract certain muscles. Months later he had progressed to using a prosthetic arm.

While the physical rehabilitation went according to plan, David said the psychological rehabilitation was another story.

“In those first few months it was the most depressing time of my life. I would breakdown out of nowhere. I couldn’t sleep because I was having flashbacks,” he said.

“But I had so much support from my friends and family. They would drop everything to help keep me on track.

“My dad was such an advocate for me. He really stepped up.”

David worked with a psychologist. He returned to the workplace briefly for about six months, however being at the site of his accident proved too difficult to bear.

“I had PTSD and flashbacks of the accident all the time,” he said.

“So I worked with WorkCover (now SafeWork NSW), and my management and we all agreed it would be good for me to move on.

“For me it really came down to the support that I had.”

Like David, support is available to you too. If you’re finding your mental state is declining, or you’re recovering from an injury at work, you are entitled to reasonable adjustments to help you do your job – this includes both physical and mental accommodation.

In addition, your boss should provide you with a safe place to work, tell you how to do the job safely, and provide the right protective equipment to do it.

You have the right to speak up and say so when you think something is unsafe or someone’s behaviour is making you upset.

And, you can flat out refuse if your boss or supervisor asks you to do something unreasonable or dangerous.

As for disclosing mental health issues – it’s really up to you. If you think it will impact on your work or you require extra support from your boss, then tell them. They must keep the information confidential and they must also provide reasonable adjustments for you.

The workplace should be an inclusive space. We’re working on that and you can help too.

Know your rights, know who is there to help, and speak up if you are concerned – for yourself and others. Visit the SafeWork NSW website or call us on 13 10 50.

Tips to keep teenage workers safe

Teenage workers can be a real asset to your business. More often than not they’re energetic, enthusiastic and keen to prove themselves in the workplace.

Like all vulnerable workers, however, young workers usually require some extra attention to keep them safe. They may overlook some work health and safety risks, and need to understand the value of following safety procedures to protect themselves.

One in five work injuries in Australia happen to workers younger than 25 years with most injuries happening during the first six months on the job. While they may look mature, typically they will have little or no work experience or training and might let an eagerness to please or fit in prevent them from asking how to do tasks safely.

And if a young person is not being supervised properly then they will be at more risk of making an error with equipment or tools, or may cut corners that could result in an unfortunate incident.

But there are plenty of positive steps you can take to help keep teenage workers safe and your business operating productively. Proper training and supervision also enables teenagers to develop quality skills and safe work practices.

It is essential that supervisors keep a close eye on teenage workers and ensure they know how to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and safety equipment. The supervisor also needs to alert the young worker to any potential hazards and take every reasonable precaution to prevent them from getting hurt.

Supervisors must also ensure that young workers don’t copy poor safety examples of older co-workers. Teens may assume that if a senior workmate can do it without incident, then so can they.

Teenage years are also a turbulent time for mental health. It is a time when rates of anxiety and mood difficulties are higher. Supervisors need to be aware of signs that a young person is struggling and know how to talk to them about their concerns and suggest where they might go to get help.

Here are a few tips to help keep your teenage workers safe:

  • Conduct thorough workplace training, including how to identify hazards and manage risks, so they are better prepared to do the job safely. It’s also important to put this training into practice – make sure young workers understand what they’ve learnt and can apply it to the job.
  • Encourage supervisors to watch young workers closely and let them know if they are doing jobs incorrectly or in a dangerous manner.
  • Encourage them to speak up if they feel a task is too dangerous or difficult.
  • Encourage them to ask questions when they aren’t sure how to perform a task safely.
  • Remind them that poor work practices can also cause illness that might not become evident until much further down the track.
  • Make sure they know what to do and where to get help during a workplace emergency.
  • Ensure that workplace safety and behaviour rules and procedures are followed, and provide PPE if necessary.
  • Encourage the reporting of injuries, hazards and near misses, regardless of how minor.
  • Feeling tired at work can lead to risky behaviour and dangerous mistakes so encourage (as best you can!) young workers to try to get a good night’s sleep before heading to work.
  • Make sure they know what workplace support options are available for mental health, such as an Employee Assistance Program and sick leave.

Click here to find out how help keep young and other vulnerable workers safe, or call us on 13 10 50.


Image of young worker and supervisor on construction site

Young construction workers at risk

Ensuring all new workers are familiar with health and safety arrangements on your construction site is critical, but young workers in particular require special treatment.

Workers aged 15 to 25 have a 75 per cent greater chance of being hurt, and in NSW 15 people in this age group are injured every day, with building sites one of the highest-risk workplaces. Typical injuries include cuts, lacerations, bruises, contusions, punctures and fractures.

Young construction workers are also more likely to experience manual handling injuries, such as sprains, strains and tears, from incorrect lifting or moving heavy or awkward objects. Falls from height are another major risk and building sites usually have numerous pitfalls such as ladders, floor openings, roofs, scaffolds and stairs.

One reason why young workers are more vulnerable is they are less likely to recognise and be able to cope with potential hazards. This requires knowledge, skills and experience only gained by time on the job. On a building site, this inexperience and lack of awareness can increase the chances of being injured or causing an injury.

So while it might be costly and time-consuming to provide extra training to bring younger workers fully up to speed on potential hazards and safe working practices, it is a smart investment as well as a legal requirement.

A training checklist for young workers could look like this:

  1. Give clear instructions about a job or task and safety precautions to take.
  2. Ask them to repeat your instructions back to you to make sure they understand.
  3. Encourage them to ask you questions about the task or anything else.
  4. Show how to perform a task and get them to demonstrate and repeat it until they have it correct.
  5. Provide written instructions on their job and tasks, and stress the importance of learning these and referring to them as often as required.
  6. Explain and demonstrate equipment and machinery safety features and make sure they understand how these work. Also show them the personal protective equipment required to do tasks safely, where to find it, and how to use it properly.
  7. Ask if they have any questions and make sure you or a supervisor monitors the worker’s progress and performance, especially in their first few weeks, and repeat training where necessary.

Before entering a construction site, all young workers must complete external General Construction Induction Training (GCIT) and hold a current WorkCover-issued GCIT card.

More guidance is available at the WorkCover website or call 13 10 50.