Prosecutions

Education Department fined $200,000 over the death of 7 year-old 

Victoria's Department of Education and Training was last week convicted and fined over the tragic death in 2018 of a seven-year-old whose wheelchair tipped over at the bottom of a ramp at a special school.

The department was sentenced in the Melbourne County Court after earlier pleading guilty to two charges of failing to ensure that people other than employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of $1.5 million. The Department's guilty plea came after magistrate Pauline Spencer dismissed its application in January to have the case remain in the lower court where penalties are lower. Ms Spencer said the case was too serious and had to be heard in the County Court.

The court heard the student had severe physical and intellectual disabilities and it was routine for teachers to wheel him outside and between classrooms. 

On the day of the incident, the child and other students were lining up at the classroom door to go outside, with a student holding on to the wheelchair. As the classroom teacher and teacher’s aide were dealing with a separate behavioural incident, the student teacher was asked to begin moving the students out of the classroom - but let go of the wheelchair when the door opened,  and it moved quickly down the ramp. It tipped over at the bottom of the ramp; the student hit his head on the concrete landing, and tragically died in hospital four days later.

A WorkSafe investigation found the ramp, which did not sit flush with the concrete, failed to meet safety standards; the student teacher was not given an induction on the students' special needs; and teaching staff were not properly trained in the student’s supervision and mobility requirements.

The court heard it was reasonably practicable for the department to professionally assess the construction and maintenance of all ramps at the school and to provide instruction and training to staff on the student's care requirements.
Read more: WorkSafe media release; The HeraldSun 

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

UK Prosecutions

'Bittersweet justice' as firms fined after worker froze to death

The family of a security guard who froze to death at a construction site when he was snowed in have said they now have justice after two companies were fined almost £900,000 (AD$1.68 m) for criminal health and safety failings. Ronnie Alexander was on duty at Afton wind farm in East Ayrshire, in January 2018 during bad weather. The 74-year-old was found lying in the snow and later died in hospital from hypothermia.

Northstone NI Ltd and Corporate Service Management were fined a total of £868,800 (AD$1.62 m) at Ayr Sheriff Court, the Crown Office said, after previously pleading guilty to criminal failings under health and safety laws. In a statement, Mr Alexander’s family welcomed the fine but added “ultimately is it all bittersweet because at the end of the day we are still without Ronnie and no punishment can change that.” The Crown Office said Northstone, which was handed a £768,000 (AD$1.43 m) fine, ran the remote site and there were two generators which were set up to provide heating and electricity – both of which had broken a number of times and had not been replaced. There was no back-up generator. With no landline service and limited mobile phone coverage, an internet phone system was used which required a password and power from the generator, the Crown Office said.

Corporate Service Management, which was fined £100,800 (AD$188,280), provided guards for the site but had not given them the passwords and the guards had no access to the internet phone. The Crown Office said that despite knowing about the lack of signal, the company expected guards to use their personal mobiles in an emergency.
Read more: HSE news release. BBC News Online. Source: Risks 1023

Repeat offender director jailed for ignoring HSE notices

A director of a former car salvage company in Wales has been jailed for a year after failing to comply with Health and Safety Executive (HSE) enforcement notices.

Newport Crown Court heard that between 2018 and 2021, Tahir Karim was in control of activities and those working at Long Life Spares in Llanbradach, Caerphilly. During this time he failed to comply with four enforcement notices, including immediate stop work prohibition notices. The notices had been served in relation to the use of unsafe forklift trucks and structural safety issues affecting the site. An investigation by HSE found in addition to Karim allowing the continued use of unsafe forklifts, a bridge on the site which was assessed months earlier as at risk of collapse was still in use, with vehicles and people walking and driving underneath it daily. And part of a ‘dangerous’ 250m long retaining wall along the length of the property which had previously collapsed on to the site’s access road remained a serious risk.

The court heard Karim was aware of the risks and yet still directed workers to act in a way that contravened the prohibitions and risked their own safety. The company director pleaded guilty to four offences under section 33 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment. HSE inspector Sian Donne commented: “We do not tolerate disregard for health and safety and consider the non-compliance of HSE enforcement notices as a serious offence.” In the period from 13 November 2017 to 13 December 2018, Karim was served by HSE with six prohibition notices and eight improvement notices for criminal breaches of safety law, the regulator’s enforcement database show. 
Read more: HSE news release. South Wales Argus. Source: Risks 1023

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