On 23 June 2022, a charity was sentenced in the Brisbane Magistrates Court for breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘the Act’), having failed to comply with its primary health and safety duty.
The defendant charity operated a warehouse and engaged paid employees and unpaid volunteers to work there.
The defendant charity had policies and procedures to eliminate or minimise the potential for contact between pedestrian workers and moving forklifts. However, it did not have an adequate system to enforce and ensure compliance with those policies. This failure exposed workers to the risk of death or serious injury from contact with moving forklifts.
On 13 March 2020, a paid worker was operating a forklift to move goods between the warehouse building and vehicles in the loading zone. Contrary to the defendant’s policies, a volunteer entered the loading zone to take a break from working inside the building. The paid worker drove the forklift into the loading zone without paying sufficient attention to his surroundings. He failed to see the volunteer and collided into him. The volunteer suffered serious fractures to his right pelvis and foot that required treatment in hospital.
In sentencing, acting Magistrate Bice observed duty-holders under the Act held a “high onus for good reason”, given the potential for injury and death when duties are not complied with. Though the defendant was a non-profit charity that functions for the community benefit, his Honour recognised the defendant’s failure of duty was such that there was still a need to convey a deterrent message.
His Honour observed the defendant did have relevant procedures in place, including an induction process. However, his Honour accepted the prosecution’s characterisation that the incident represented an erosion of the defendant’s enforcement of those procedures. His Honour remarked an element of complacency ultimately led to the materialisation of the risk.
In mitigation, his Honour had regard to the defendant’s early guilty plea. His Honour took into account that the defendant is a charitable organisation that assists vulnerable members of the community, and that it is otherwise a good corporate citizen. His Honour was impressed by the defendant taking significant post-incident steps, which exceeded $1.1 million in cost, to prevent the repetition of such incidents. His Honour had regard to the fact that the defendant provided care to the injured volunteer.
Balancing all the circumstances, his Honour determined the fine should be $30,000. His Honour declined to record a conviction in light of the mitigating factors.
OWHSP contact: email@example.com
Sections 19(1) and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011