A diesel mechanical repair and sugar cane harvesting business was charged with one offence pursuant to s 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the ‘Act’) for breaching the duty it held under s 19(1) of the Act. On 2 November 2020, the defendant company pleaded guilty and was sentenced in the Cairns Magistrates Court.
The defendant company operated a diesel mechanical repair and sugar cane harvesting business in North Queensland. On 7 October 2017 three workers, including one of the company directors, were undertaking cane harvesting at a farm at Mowbray. One of the cane haul-out vehicles developed an hydraulic line leak and the director, believing the leak occurred due to a loose pipe fitting that only needed tightening, instructed the vehicle driver to tighten the fitting in the assembly area, some 500 metres away. The worker was tasked to undertake this repair by himself.
The worker was located, approximately 20 minutes later by a worker who went to check on him, crushed between the operating haul-out vehicle and a stationary bulk fuel trailer. The defendant company had in place a system for undertaking field repairs (as here) where it would request one of its mechanics to attend site to undertake the repair. As its director believed the repair was a simple one that could be undertaken by the worker, the defendant company departed from its usual system.
The defendant company should have had in place a prohibition on workers undertaking field repairs single-handedly (in compliance with the operator manual for the vehicle and also the Rural Plant COP) and developed and instructed workers in the system for undertaking field maintenance repairs.
In outlining the facts the Magistrate observed that it appeared the deceased had attempted to affect the repair without turning off the machine and had become crushed and killed. Magistrate Pinder accepted the directors of the company, one of whom had diesel mechanic qualifications, had previously given the deceased an instruction not to work on a machine when it was operating though noted this instruction had not been given on the incident date to the deceased.
The Magistrate noted there had been significant co-operation in the course of the investigation by WHSQ and there had been a timely plea of guilty. His Honour accepted there had been remorse demonstrated by the company through its plea of guilty and noted there had been individual remorse expressed by the directors in each of their affidavits filed with the Court.
The Magistrate noted the company had no prior convictions for any WHS breach. His Honour also noted he had read the victim impact statement tendered on behalf of the family of the deceased and this was a relevant consideration with regard to the harm caused by the defendant company’s breach.
In sentencing the defendant company, Magistrate Pinder considered this breach was toward the mid-level range of objective seriousness and that general deterrence loomed large in his penalty consideration. In imposing a penalty, his Honour declined to record a conviction stating the company had a previous good record and there had been other matters dealt with where more serious offending had occurred, and a conviction not being recorded had not been disturbed on appeal.
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Work Health and Safety Act 2011