Labour hire company fined after worker's death

A labour hire company has been fined $50,000 (plus $10,438 in costs) following the death of a worker at a Benalla timber mill in 2018. Recruitment Select Pty Ltd pleaded guilty in the Wangaratta Magistrates' Court on Monday to a single charge of failing to provide and maintain a safe system of work.

The worker, who was employed by Recruitment Select, had started working at the timber mill in February 2018. He was later moved into a new role in a different section of the factory, but Recruitment Select was unaware of this. 

In May 2018, the worker was removing rejected timber from a moulding machine when he was dragged into the unguarded shaft of a conveyor belt and pinned against a metal upright. He suffered multiple injuries and died at the scene.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said the company should have done more to assess the risks at the workplace. "Labour hire agencies not only need to establish if a workplace is safe in the first place, they must continue monitoring their employee and consult with them on health and safety matters relevant to their job," Ms Nielsen said. "This includes making sure the host does not give their employees new or different tasks, especially tasks unrelated to their experience and qualifications."

D&R Henderson Pty Ltd, the operator of the timber mill, is also facing charges over the incident. Source: WorkSafe media release

Repeat offender abattoir operator fined $90,000

A Warrnambool meat processor has been convicted and fined $90,000 (plus $200 costs) after a worker was hit by a forklift in 2019.  Midfield Meat International pleaded guilty in the Warrnambool Magistrates' Court last week for failing to ensure persons other than employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety.

On 20 March 2019, a labour hire worker was hit by a reversing forklift as he was stacking cardboard sheets against a wall. His legs were crushed between the forklift and a steel barrier. He was taken to hospital and suffered nerve damage to his lower legs.

A WorkSafe investigation found that although there was a traffic management plan in place, pedestrian workers regularly worked within the forklift operating zone despite the clear risk of collision.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen there was no excuse for failing to separate workers and mobile plant. "This incident should serve as a wake-up call to this company and to others that it is simply unacceptable for pedestrians and mobile plant to mix," Ms Nielsen said.

Disturbingly, this is not the first time that MMI has been prosecuted and fined under the OHS Act - it is a repeat offender.

  1. On 30 October 2017, an employee and the director of the company were standing in the middle of the yard in the "thoroughfare". There were no designated pedestrian walkways or physical barriers to designate pedestrian only areas. At the same time another employee was loading his truck. After filling a bin with skins, he drove a forklift back through the thoroughfare towards his truck. His view was obscured by the full bin; he heard someone yell out "stop, stop." He had hit the two people in the thoroughfare. The worker sustained two fractured ribs; the director was not seriously injured. 

    A WorkSafe Inspector issued the company with three improvement notices. The company was charged with breaching section 21(1) of the OHS Act, pleaded guilty and was convicted and fined  $95,000 plus $4,000 costs. 

  2. In March 2017 MMI was convicted and fined $47,000 (plus $9,304 in costs) when an employee, a fitter and turner, was removing the faulty motor and gearbox of Storage Room Retrieval System (SARS). When he did this, the SARS cradle fell on the worker, who sustained serious head injuries. The manufacturer and installer of the SARS had provided the company with a hazard identification document advising that all operators, maintenance and cleaning staff be trained in the SARS safe operation, and that only trained personnel should carry out maintenance. 

  3. Between 5 June 2014 and 20 October 2014, four workers contracted Q-fever - a zoonotic disease that is passed from infected animals to humans. These workers worked in the foetal bleeding room and on the small and large kill floors. WorkSafe found that MMI failed to provide and maintain healthy and safe systems of work, in that it failed to institute and maintain an adequate vaccination and/or certification system to protect employees from contracting Q-fever from infected animals. In lieu of prosecution, on 14 November 2016, the MMI entered into an Enforceable Undertaking with WorkSafe Victoria.

  4. In 2010 a worker suffered serious arm injuries after being dragged into a conveyor whilst cleaning. This resulted in a $35,000 fine

  5. In 2009 there was an explosion at the workplace - the company was prosecuted and fined $32,500 

  6. In 2004 a worker suffered an amputated finger and other injuries from an unguarded pump on a dairy property. However the company did not receive a fine. 

Finally, the company has been making news recently on how its workers are treated. A recording has emerged of the abattoir's general manager Dean McKenna, whose family owns the company,  abuse and threaten the visa status of dozens of Chinese workers. Many of these workers had paid a Chinese labour hire contractor large sums of money, up to $70,000, to come to work at the company in the hope of getting a permanent residency visa. 

In the recording, McKenna also denied comments by the Chinese workers in mainstream and social media about their working conditions.  “To say that people don’t get toilet breaks. To say that ... a worker got cuts, had nine stitches, had to come straight back to work? Bullshit. To say that we’re racist? Bullshit. To say that we don’t support you? Bullshit,” he was recorded saying. He then told the workers that he had personally called the Immigration Minister to stop their chances of getting visas as a result of airing their grievances. The article in The Monthly documents how AMIEU members organised on the site and courageously shared horrific stories of exploitation at Midfield Meats.  Read more: The Monthly (free access to one article per month); The Age  

Saw Mill fined $36,000 following amputation

A2C International Trade Pty Ltd, operator of a saw mill in Warrnambool, pleaded guilty and was without conviction fined $36,500.00 (plus $2,051.66 in costs) after a 2019 incident in which an employee lost sections of his right hand ring and little fingers.

He was working as a "strapper" on the stacking strapping bundles of timber into packs. He was using a scissor lift to access the table. While trying to pick one a piece of timber from the line to add to a stack missing one, he reached over with both hands, but lost his grip.  He tried to pull the timber back towards him but while doing so, his right hand glove got caught on the moving cogs of the stacker table. His hand was pulled in and got stuck.

A WorkSafe inspector who attended the workplace issued two improvement notices regarding: inadequate guarding on the stacking table and the supervision of workers for the task.

To check for any Victorian prosecutions before the next edition, go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage. 

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