On 7 December 2022 a company and its sole director were fined a total of $25,000 in the Toowoomba Magistrates Court for offences under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 section 32 after its employee contracted Q-fever.
The defendant company conducted a business operating an abattoir, yarding and slaughtering livestock. The defendant director had a presence at the workplace and would supervise the manager of its employees. The employee worked for the defendant company initially as a night cleaner and then a slaughterman between August and December 2018. As part of his work duties he would come into contact with live animals and animal remains.
Q-fever is a disease caused by Coxiella burnetii bacteria. The main carriers of the bacteria are farm animals, including those which were processed in the course of the company’s business. Due to close contact with animals and animal remains, abattoir and meat workers are at risk of contracting the disease. Symptoms of the Q-fever disease range from mild to severe requiring hospitalisation. Vaccination is an available and effective preventative against contracting the disease.
On 11 December 2018 the employee attended his general practitioner with symptoms of Q-fever, including vomiting, diarrhoea and headache. He reattended two days later with abdominal pain and was hospitalized for four days. Subsequent testing confirmed he had Q-fever. The employee stated he had no knowledge of the risk of Q-fever until the defendant director approached him in late November 2018 and asked if he had been vaccinated against it. The defendant director then instructed the employee to get vaccinated. The defendant company advised that the worker was advised to get vaccinated and made assurances throughout his employment he was getting it done.
A WHSQ investigation found that the company had no written risk assessment or safe work procedure in place related to Q-fever. The defendant company verbally advised its workers to wear a mask while working until they had been vaccinated, but the masks provided were not fit tested, and the policy was not adequately enforced. It did not retain employee vaccination records and had no way to track employee vaccination status. These failures formed the defendant company’s breach of its work health and safety duty which exposed the employee to the risk of contracting Q-fever. The defendant director failed to take reasonable steps to ensure the defendant company had adequate resources and policies to comply with that health and safety duty owed.
The defendant company and its director knew of the risk posed by Q-Fever as a result of having had three workers contract the disease in 2015.
In considering the sentence for both defendants, Magistrate Philipson took into account each defendants plea of guilty. Her Honour also considered the obvious and high risk of infection, the need for general and specific deterrence, and the fact the defendants had no prior convictions. Her Honour imposed a fine on the defendant company and its director of $20,000 and $5,000 respectively. No convictions were recorded.
OWHSP contact: email@example.com
Sections 19(1) & 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011
Sections 27 & 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011