Worker killed on production line; company fined $150K

Wednesday May 02, 2018
Written by Ontario Ministry of Labour
May 2, 2018 - Following a guilty plea, Quebec-based Saputo Dairy Products Canada GP has been fined $150,000 after a worker was killed by a cheese-cutter machine at the company’s production facility in Trenton, Ont.

The Ministry of Labour explains that a worker was assigned to work as a drier operator in the parmesan department and was experienced in this area, having worked there for a number of years. In this task the worker was alone, loading and emptying the drier with various cheese blocks.

For the most part, this job requires placing full uncut 19-kilogram blocks of uncut cheese onto the drier conveyor to be placed in the drier. Occasionally the task requires cutting some of those 19-kilogram blocks into smaller pieces. Cutting is done with a large manually operated rocker knife.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, workers have reported that the rocker knife was often difficult to use and took considerable effort to cut some blocks of cheese. As a result, one of the supervisors indicated to workers that they could use a machine called the 640 cutter, located nearby. This machine consists of a conveyor upon which 640-pound blocks of cheese are cut.

Blocks are placed on the conveyor where the cheese is cut horizontally, then through a guillotine-style cutter to further cut the blocks vertically. Although the employer took the position that the 640 cutter was only to be used for those large blocks of cheese, it appears to have been common practice to use it to also cut the 19-kilogram blocks of parmesan.

The guillotine-style vertical cutter of the 640 consists of a lower stationary bar and a moving upper bar. This bar drops at the rate of 2 inches every second, taking 17 seconds to lower completely. At its lowest point, there is clearance of 2.5 inches between the bars. There is no guard at this obvious pinch point, and no automated lockout or light curtain barrier to prevent access to the pinch point, according to the MOL.

On Dec. 15, 2016, the worker was found deceased by other workers in the closed pinch point of the 640 cutter. There were no witnesses to explain how the worker would come to be in that position. The worker was found kneeling on the end of the conveyor belt with hands on either side of the framework. Using the 640 cutter for 19-kilogram blocks of parmesan would not require the worker to be in that position, and where the worker was found would have provided no advantage to machine use, states the MOL.

According to the MOL, the pinch point created by the moving bar and the stationary bar should have been guarded to prevent access. As a result, Saputo is guilty of a violation of Section 25 of Ontario Regulation 851 (the Industrial Establishments Regulation) thereby committing an offence under section 25(1)(c) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Along with the $150,000 fine, the court also imposed a 25-per-cent victim fine surcharge as required by the Provincial Offences Act. The surcharge is credited to a special provincial government fund to assist victims of crime.

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