On 12 February 2021, a Central Queensland abattoir pleaded guilty and was sentenced in the Rockhampton Magistrates Court for breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the ‘Act’), having failed to meet its duty under section 19(1) of the Act. The defendant company was convicted and fined $75,000. No conviction was recorded.
The defendant undertook meat processing activities that involved plant including a sterile beef hide puller. The hide puller was used in the initial stages of processing beef cattle, operated by two workers to strip the hides off carcasses. Two workers stood on individual platforms on either side of the carcass, with an upper and lower support arm that attached the movable platforms to the hide puller.
The hide puller performed an essential function for the processing activities and was heavily utilised by the defendant. From February 2016, the defendant identified three instances of cracking in the metal of the Hide Puller including cracks in the support arms to the platforms. On all occasions, the defendant conducted in situ weld repairs.
On 20 July 2016, two workers were operating the hide puller. The upper support arm of the platform that a worker was standing on failed which caused the platform to pivot 90 degrees on its lower support arm. This caused the worker to fall out of the platform and onto the concrete floor below. The worker hit his head and was unconscious for some time. He sustained rib fractures and serious head injuries with long-term impacts. As a result of his injuries, the worker has not returned to work.
An expert report confirmed that the support arm failed due to metal fatigue (cracking) which occurred over time and was likely driven by the repeated load placed on the support arm during operation of the hide puller. The failure developed in proximity to previous weld repairs on the support arm which concentrated the operating stress at that location.
The export report confirmed that the crack which caused the support arm to fail would have likely been detectable by dye penetrant testing several years before the final fracture occurred in July 2016.
In sentencing, his Honour Magistrate Pinder took into account the legislative framework of the Act as well as the sentencing principles outlined in the decision of Mac Plant Pty Ltd and Mac Farm Pty Ltd. His Honour acknowledged that it was a relatively early plea of guilty, (once expert evidence had been obtained), that the defendant had no prior history of workplace offences and had an ongoing commitment to support the local community. His Honour referred to the victim impact statement provided by the injured worker, noting he continues to suffer from the injuries sustained in the incident.
Reference was made to the post incident steps of the defendant, which included the implementation of dye penetrative testing. His Honour commented that, despite the dye penetrative testing presenting an inconvenience to business operations, the defendant had a responsibility under the Act to ensure workers were given the highest level of protection, especially given the hazard of plant failure.
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Sections 19(1) and 32 Work Health and Safety Act 2011