Henderson safety fears

AUSTAL workers at Henderson are using the same tool that caused gruesome injuries at the shipbuilder’s subsidiary yard in Alabama, including missing fingers and gashed faces, limbs and necks.

The Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that from 2011 to 2015, 53 Austal workers at the Alabama shipyard were injured by a modified “Metabo” brand grinder, losing fingers and suffering deep gashes on their faces, necks and arms.

Austal replaced the standard disks on the grinder with a sawtooth blade, making the tool more efficient, but also more dangerous.

• Austal US worker Martin Osborn showing Newshour the modified grinder that led to his finger being amputated.

The grinders’ manufacturer Metabo Corp warns against using these sawtooth blades in the tool’s manual, saying they “create frequent kickback and loss of control”.

The CIR report found Austal USA’s own safety manager emailed company officials calling the tool lethal, a “widow maker” and “an accident waiting to happen”.

One worker who lost a finger called it, “the most dangerous tool that I’ve ever put in my hands”.

He underwent three surgeries and debilitating pain still radiates up his arm and around the stump.

“They preach safety, but yet, they don’t care,” he told the CIR.

• Austal has won numerous billion-dollar contracts with the Australian and US navies.

He said workers who complained about the tool to supervisors were told, “if you don’t want to use the tool, go get a job at Burger King”.

The Herald contacted Austal’s head office in Henderson, asking if the modified grinders were in use here, and they told us its Australian operations had a good safety record.

“Austal does use Metabo grinders in its Henderson operations, and all have factory guards and handles fitted as standard,” said an Austal spokesperson.

“Austal is aware of issues raised with the grinders and has dedicated significant resources to improvement activities in Australia and the United States, such as further safety modifications and additional training.

“Austal is a ‘safety leader’ in Australian manufacturing.

“Austal Australia has a good safety record which is below the Australian Manufacturing benchmark, but even one health and safety incident is one too many.”

The US safety authority, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, concluded the saw exposed workers to amputations, severe lacerations and other injuries, and they fined the US shipyard $4,125 (USD).

Austal’s received more than $6billion (USD) in US Navy contracts since 2008.

In June, Austal Australia announced they were bidding for a $35billion defence contract to build warships for the Australian Navy.

by DAVID BELL

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