Prosecutions

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QLD: Company fined $150,000 after worker crushed to death

The Cairns Magistrates Court has fined a North Queensland diesel mechanical repair and sugar cane harvesting business $150,000 following an incident in 2017 when a worker was crushed to death trying to fix a cane haul-out vehicle. No conviction was recorded. 

On 7 October 2017, three workers, including a company director, were harvesting cane at a Mowbray farm. One of the cane haul-out vehicles developed an hydraulic line leak and the director, believing it was simply a hose that needed tightening, instructed the driver to fix the fitting in the assembly area around 500m away. The man did the repair alone. About 20 minutes later, a colleague discovered the worker had been crushed between the ‘haul-out’ vehicle and a stationary bulk fuel trailer.

The company did have a system for field repairs such as this one: normally, one of its mechanics would be called in to do the job. However, this time the process was not followed as the director believed the easy fix could have been done by the driver. The company should have had in place a prohibition on workers doing field repairs single-handedly (in compliance with the operator manual for the vehicle and also the Rural Plant COP), as well as developing and instructing workers on the appropriate system for field maintenance. 

It appears the driver had attempted to fix the problem without turning off the machine and was crushed to death. The magistrate acknowledged that the company directors, one of whom had diesel mechanic qualifications, had previously told him not to work on a machine when it was operating, though noted this instruction had not been given on the day of the incident.
Source: WorkSafe Queensland news release

Major employer fined twice in one week, by two regulators, over fatality and vat burns 

Meat processing giant JBS Australia Pty Ltd has been handed significant WHS penalties in two jurisdictions, including for failing to properly respond to two previous workplace fires, which led to a contractor sustaining fatal injuries in a third fire.

On Friday last week, JBS was fined $300,000 in the NSW District Court in relation to the fatality, and last Tuesday, it was fined $150,000 in the Launceston Magistrates Court in Tasmania in relation to serious burn injuries sustained by a teenage worker in a vat of hot tripe.

In the NSW case, JBS pleaded guilty to breaching sections 19 ("Primary duty of care") and 32 ("Failure to comply with health and safety duty–Category 2") of the State WHS Act in exposing four workers at its cattle feedlot in Caroona to a risk of death or serious injury. In February 2017, the feedlot manager was using a tractor and mower conditioner to harvest kikuya grass in very hot conditions when the process triggered a grass fire. He tried to use the tractor's water-based fire extinguisher but ran out of water and radioed for colleagues to help.

The fire quickly grew , and an independent contractor who worked as a farm hand at the site used a front-end loader to create a firebreak, before the vehicle was observed entering and disappearing in the thick smoke. Shortly after, the farm hand walked out of the smoke with his clothing burnt off and with severe thermal injuries to 90 per cent of his body. He was taken by ambulance to hospital while the Rural Fire Service put out the fire. The worker died two days later.

The court heard that in November 2016, there had been two separate crop fires at the feedlot in almost identical circumstances to the February 2017 fire, but JBS failed to respond to the earlier incidents by making necessary changes to its processes or practices. JBS failed to:

  • keep records of the previous fires,
  • update its emergency plan,
  • conduct a risk assessment
  • hold any meetings with workers,
  • ensure the emergency plan addressed grass fires. It did not provide instructions for workers responding to bush or grass fires, or set out related evacuation procedures.
  • provide firefighting personal protective equipment to workers,
  • adequate training on undertaking harvesting operations during periods of high temperatures,

"Notwithstanding that [the feedlot manager] was the chief fire warden for the workplace... [JBS] provided him with no training, instruction or information about minimising the potential for fires to ignite during mowing or harvesting. Similarly... other workers [with fire warden roles] had not been provided with any training, instruction or information about how to respond to or fight a grass fire, and no one at the fire scene had any formal firefighting experience or training," she said.

The Judge found an appropriate fine for JBS was $400,000, before reducing the penalty by 25 per cent to $300,000 to reflect JBS's guilty plea. She ordered the employer to pay $40,000 in prosecution costs.

In November 2016, a 19 year-old worker at JBS's Longford abattoir climbed the side of a tripe wash tub to remove some stuck tripe, before slipping into the 80-degree water and sustaining serious burns to his legs and feet. This work method was commonly used by other workers and created an obvious risk of death or serious injury. The Magistrate found JBS had provided alternative but ineffective methods for removing stuck tripe from tubs.

In this case, JBS pleaded guilty to category-2 breaches of the Tasmanian WHS Act, and also pleaded guilty to breaching its duty to consult with workers who carried out work for it and were or were likely to be directly affected by health and safety matters. The company was fined $130,000 for the first breach and $20,000 for the consultation contravention. It was initially charged with the more serious offence of reckless conduct, but found not guilty of that last year. 
Source: OHSAlert

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