UNIQUE Australian technology is taking the injuries out of bandsaw work in the domestic and international meat processing sectors.
Southern Meats, at Goulburn in southern New South Wales is one of several Australian meat processors that has invested in several BladeStop bandsaws.
The BladeStop technology involves workers becoming part of an electronic circuit connected to the saw so that when a person touches the bandsaw blade it stops within 15 milliseconds, minimising any injuries.
BladeStop developer Scott Automation and Robotics (SAR) has also developed a camera-based system called GloveCheck that also stops the bandsaw before injuries occur.
SAR general manager Sean Starling said more than 70 BladeStop units have been sold in Australia in the past 18 months. There have also been sales into north America. The company also has a demonstration saw in Europe. Units have been in Australian processing plants for about seven years, but the latest commercial version has been available for the past two years.
BladeStop’s innovative sensing mechanism relies on electrically insulating an operator from the bandsaw blade, he said.
“As a result if any part of the operator’s skin (hand, arm or other) comes into contact with the blade the sensing circuit is triggered.
“This novel approach, as a result, protects any part of the operator’s body from the saw blade, not just their fingers, which is a limitation on a camera finger and hand sensing system alone.”
Mr Starling said BladeStop can halt a bandsaw blade in as little as 8 milliseconds, though it is triggered by a part of the operator’s body coming into contact with the blade.
“Quite often you don’t even need stitches.”
GloveCheck pre-brakes bandsaw to avoid injury
The company can also bolt-on its GloveCheck technology, which is triggered when an operator wearing a specific coloured glove (currently blue) comes near the band saw blade.
“It’s looking for your blue glove and as your hand gets very close to where the bandsaw blade is, it starts to pre-brake the blade and it actually stops it before your finger hits it.
“That results in no cuts at all.”
But if an operator’s fingers are underneath the meat, then GloveCheck’s camera won’t pick up the glove to pre-brake the blade, highlighting the importance of proper training and also having BladeStop installed to prevent injuries, he said.
BladeStop kept worker’s injury to a small cut
The Primary Industries Health and Safety Partnership said the 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 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.
The BladeStop units were 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 PIHSP.
BladeStop gives Southern Meats employees confidence
Southern Meats process 3000-5000 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 aimed 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.
- Sheep Central is aware of a second bandsaw safety technology which performs a similar function to BladeStop, which is about to be launched onto the Australian market. Sheep Central will being readers a separate article on that equipment in coming weeks.
Sources: Primary Industries Health and Safety Partnership, Scott Machinery Automation & Robotics.
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