Eureka Chip Company fined $63k after worker’s hand crushed in corn grinder at East Bendigo factory

Two well known Bendigo men, including an OAM and a Six Star Finisher, begged for mercy in court for their failing business after an employee’s hand was crushed in a grinder.

Two well known Bendigo businessmen have told a court their company is millions of dollars in debt as they begged for a lenient fine after an employee’s hand was crushed in an avoidable workplace accident.

Eureka Chip Company – owned by Sonora Foods – pleaded guilty at Bendigo Magistrates Court on Thursday to charges of failing to provide a safe workplace, failing to provide training to an employee and failing to report a workplace accident.

Leon Scott OAM, who is one of the company’s directors and majority shareholder, and the company’s chief executive Steve Mallia, told the court on behalf of the company they were “incredibly remorseful” for the horrific accident.

About noon on August 19, 2021, an employee’s hand was caught in the corn grinder at the The East Bendigo manufacturer’s Mcdowalls Rd factory — a machine used to make corn chips and tortillas.

The court heard the employee was cleaning a blockage out of the corn grinder when his pinky finger became entangled in the augur and his hand was pulled into the mechanism, causing cuts, “deep lacerations” and a broken finger, requiring surgery.

The court heard there was no guard on the machine, and it was “normal” for employees to clear blockages in the grinder with their hand while the machine was running.

Following the incident, 11 improvement notices were issued to Eureka Chip Company — seven of which required guards to be installed on various machinery.

Eureka Chip Company management claimed it didn’t know it had to report the incident to WorkSafe and was unaware of risks associated with not having proper guards installed.

Magistrate Sharon McRae said there was a picture on the machine depicting “fingers chopped off” and the operating manual said that the machine needed to be stopped to clear the grinder — making the accident a “known risk”.

“When there is an open auger in any machine without any guards in my view any person operating a factory would understand that is an appreciable risk of injury to a worker,” she said.

The company’s lawyer said the company had spent $668,000 on “significant” safety improvements at the factory, despite being in a “perilous” financial situation, negative $1.3m in asset and equity position.

The court heard the company owes about $2m to creditors and $1m to company director Leon Scott and had never turned a profit since starting operations in 2019.

Mr Scott, a man deeply involved in the Bendigo community for decades is a rotary veteran, the former Eaglehawk mayor, Bendigo citizens of the year and a Medal of the Order of Australia recipient for his service to the community.

Mr Mallia is well known for running international marathons for charity – receiving the Six Star Finisher medallion, which is given to athletes who complete the Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York, and Tokyo marathons.

The company asked for a fine without conviction, claiming a conviction would destroy its corporate reputation and have “commercial consequences”, with suppliers and buyers potentially unwilling to work with them in the future.

Ms McRae said the court needed to send a message that companies have a “clear duty and obligation to keep their workers safe”, and if they “fail” to do that there are “serious consequences”.

However, she accepted the company had spent “big money” on stopping other workplace accidents in the future despite running at an operating loss.

Bendigo Eureka Chip Company was fined $63,000 and ordered to pay $4677 in costs. No conviction was recorded.

Source: Herald Sun

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