Hazelwood Power guilty after devastating mine fire
Employers that do not do enough to protect the health and safety of either workers or the community, or to address the risks posed by external sources like bushfires, have been put on notice, after Hazelwood Power Corporation Pty Ltd (HPC) was found guilty of 10 charges under the Victorian OHS Act. The company had pleaded not guilty to 12 breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Following an eight-week jury trial in the Melbourne Supreme Court, the company was last week found guilty of five charges under section 21 (1) and (2) (c) of the Act of failing, so far as reasonably practicable, to provide its employees a safe working environment. It was also convicted of a further five charges under section 23 (1) of the Act, for failing to ensure persons other than employees were not exposed to health and safety risks.
The court heard the company failed to:
- Perform an adequate assessment on the risk of fire in the mine from an external source such as bushfire.
- Have an adequate reticulated fire water pipe system to the northern batters (sloping walls) of the mine.
- Slash vegetation on the face of the northern batters.
- Begin wetting down the northern batters on the morning of 9 February 2014 given the extreme fire danger forecast.
- Have sufficient staff numbers and expertise to suppress and fight instantly any fires that might take hold in and around the mine during the weekend of 8 and 9 of February 2014.
The company was found not guilty of two charges of failing to install an alternate power supply to operate the mine fire water system.
Caused by embers from a bushfire, the mine fire burned for 45 days in February and March 2014, sending smoke and ash across the Latrobe Valley and causing numerous health problems to mine employees, emergency services workers and community members. An independent inquiry found local fire services weren't prepared to respond to the hazardous conditions, and HPC's "carbon monoxide procedure" didn't adequately protect its operational workers or in-house firefighters. The inquiry later found the disaster probably caused an increase in illness deaths in Latrobe Valley communities in 2014.
The judgment also resulted in the lifting of a suppression order on a Supreme Court decision from four months ago, where a jury found four related entities guilty of breaching the State Environment Protection Act in polluting the atmosphere over and near the Latrobe Valley town of Morwell, making it noxious, poisonous or offensive to humans, and harmful or potentially harmful to humans' health, welfare, safety or property. These entities were Hazelwood Pacific Pty Ltd, Australian Power Partners BV, Hazelwood Churchill Pty Ltd and National Power Australia Investments. HPC and the other entities will be sentenced at a later date.
Read more: WorkSafe media release Source of more information: OHSAlert
Cheese and butter producer prosecuted after contractor injured
Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory Holdings Limited operates a cheese and butter factory in Allansford, which has an effluent pond covered by a floating membrane to contain odour. The company annually engaged a contractor in order to remove the cover and clean the pond.
On 26 April 2017 the contractor was using a tractor crawler connected to a pulley system to drag the cover off the pond. In the course of this process a chain connecting the spreader bar to the cover failed, causing the bar to swing towards an employee of the contractor. The employee sustained a fractured upper leg when he was struck by the spreader bar.
The WorkSafe investigation revealed that the engineering company who designed the pond prepared an operation and maintenance manual for removal of the pond cover. Before the incident Warrnanmbool Cheese and Butter signed off on the contractor's Safe Work Method Statement ("SWMS") for the cover removal and conducted a safety briefing with the contractor. However the SWMS did not address the activities in each step of the process which the engineer identified in the manual. The risk of injury could have been controlled by setting up an exclusion zone and a specific work practice.
The company pleaded guilty - it had two prior OHS matters - it was, without conviction, fined $15,000 plus costs of $5,094.00.
Construction company fined due to extremely dangerous trenching work
Rodger Constructions, a civil construction company near Warrnambool, had been engaged to undertake civil construction works including the construction of roads, storm water drainage, sewerage and the provision of water supply.
On 13 February 2018 a Rodger employee used his phone to film work being done in an unshielded trench. It showed three workers inside the trench, with a trench height significantly higher than the workers. There had been no assessment of the risk of wall collapse by a qualified geo-technical engineer before the work commenced. It was also alleged that there were no control measures in place to control the risk of wall collapse within the trench.
On 15 February 2018, the company was tasked with laying storm water pipes into trenches at the workplace. An employee turned and walked towards the trench shield to enter the trench to assist with the positioning of a pipe as it was lowered. The trench did not have an access gantry. The worker stepped over the gap between the trench and the shield when his foot slipped on sand sitting on the shield bar. He fell into the 2.4m deep trench, hitting his back and head. He suffered soft tissue injuries to his hips and back and spent three days in hospital.
The company pleaded guilty to breaching s21(1), and s26 of the OHS Act, and r44 and was, without conviction, fined $10,000 on charge 1, and $15,000 on charge 2, as well as $6,642 costs.
Scaffolding company fined $12,500
A domestic and commercial building company, building a double storey home in Port Melbourne, engaged Western Scaffold Pty Ltd to erect a scaffold at the workplace.
On the morning of 18 July 2018, while a WorkSafe Inspector was at the workplace on an unrelated matter, he observed an energised overhead 240 volt electrical cable with tiger tails fitted, passing through an accessible scaffold deck at the front of the workplace. An improvement notice was issued to Western Scaffold requiring them to ensure that the building company employees were not exposed to electrical hazards. The Inspector re-attended the workplace on 26 July 2018 and deemed the improvement notice had been complied with. The company pleaded guilty to breaching s23 of the Act, and was, without conviction, fined of $12,500 plus costs of $4,217.
To keep up to date with prosecutions, go to the WorkSafe Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.