On 11 December 2023, the defendant pleaded guilty in the Southport Magistrates Court, to a category 2 offence contrary to section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) (WHS Act). The defendant held a health and safety duty pursuant to section 19(1) to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers. The defendant failed to discharge that duty and exposed workers to the risk of death or serious injury.
The offending occurred on or about 25 March 2021, in the course of the defendant operating a business at a workplace at Coomera which involved the storage and maintenance of vessels. The defendant employed workers at its business. The workers, as part of their duties, were required to lift and transport vessels, using large mobile carriers, in the vicinity of a launch / recovery bay on the Coomera river. The mobile carriers were operated at the workplace in circumstances where exclusion zones were not implemented in the vicinity of the launch / recovery bay, and the existing standard operating procedures for the operation of the large mobile carriers did not prohibit workers and other persons from entering, or remaining in, marked exclusion zones.
The defendant failed to comply with the duty it owed to its workers by failing to ensure the implementation of exclusion zones, including the installation of signage and line markings along the path of travel for plant in the vicinity of the launch / recovery bay and that there were standard operating procedures which prohibited workers and other persons from entering, or remaining in, marked exclusion zones.
The risk of interaction between people and the large mobile carriers during the operation of the large mobile carriers materialised during an incident which occurred on 25 March 2021, when a worker employed by the defendant was struck by a carrier (which weighed approximately 10 tonnes).
As a result of being struck by the mobile carrier. the worker sustained injuries to his legs, which later necessitated the surgical amputation of his left leg below his knee.
After the incident, the defendant clearly marked exclusion zones in the vicinity of the launch / recovery bay and updated its standard operating procedures to prohibit people from entering, or remaining in, those marked exclusion zones.
Magistrate Bentley, during the course of sentencing remarks, accepted that the criminality of the offending was the defendant’s failure to mark exclusion zones in the vicinity of the launch / recovery bay and to prohibit workers from entering the relevant area.
Her Honour took into account the object of the WHS, and the fact that the WHS Act placed the onus on the defendant to protect its employees.
Her Honour found that the potential consequences of the risk materialising included a risk of serious injury or death which was obvious and foreseeable to the defendant, the probability of the risk materialising was high where the mobile carriers were operated in an area where workers were present and doing other tasks, that the particularised control measures were not burdensome, and the injured worker suffered a severe and life changing injury.
Her Honour further stated that general deterrence was a significant sentencing feature, and considered the comparable decisions which were provided to the court.
Magistrate Bentley took into account the defendant’s early plea of guilty, that it had complied with the investigation, had updated its policies (and exclusion zone markings) after the offending, had assisted financially with the injured worker’s recuperation, that the injured worker was still a valued employee of the defendant, and that the defendant had operated since 2000 and was a good corporate citizen and had no prior history for offending against the WHS Act.
Her Honour ultimately fined the defendant $90,000 and did not record a conviction. The defendant was given 3 months to pay the fine after which time the fine is referred to SPER.
Magistrate Bentley also ordered the defendant to pay professional costs of $1,500 for the hearing of the complaint and the $101.40 court filing fee for the filing of the complaint.
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Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld)