On 9 August 2022, a company running a business which specialised in building and selling portable buildings, together with its director, were sentenced in the Toowoomba Magistrates Court for breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘the Act’). The company pleaded guilty for failing to comply with its primary duty to ensure workers health and safety, thereby exposing them to the risk of serious injury. The director pleaded guilty to failing to exercise due diligence to ensure the company complied with its duty, thereby exposing workers to the risk of serious injury.
Employees of the business worked with heavy steel beams, which weighed approximately 250 kilograms each. The business employed eight staff at the relevant time including the injured worker, an administrative assistant whose role had expanded to include him conducting checks on stock levels in the workshop area.
The company had failed to implement a policy requiring that people who entered the construction area to wear protective footwear, had not implemented a procedure regarding an exclusion zone when moving heavy materials, and had not provided suitable equipment for working with heavy material which included fittings to prevent those materials from falling. The director failed to ensure that the company complied with its duty.
The failures by the company and the director exposed workers to the risk of serious injury, specifically the risk of being struck by a falling object. This risk materialised on 30 June 2020. On the date of the incident, the injured worker went into the workshop to speak to workers about what supplies they needed. He was speaking to a co-worker who was working with two steel beams. The beams were resting on two homemade trestles which were on uneven ground. The co-worker continued to work while they spoke. He turned one of the steel beams over by hand, which caused the second beam to vibrate off the trestles, hitting the injured workers foot. The beam bounced then hit the injured workers foot a second time. The injured worker sustained a crush injury, which resulted in him having four of his toes amputated, leaving only his little toe.
After the incident, the business took several steps including purchasing new trestles with raised fittings that prevented beams from falling off the side, producing a safe operating procedure regarding the movement of beams, which included setting up a ‘restricted zone’.
In sentencing, Magistrate Shephard noted the steps taken following the incident. Her Honour indicated that the defendant had engaged experts to develop and implement new policies and procedures for the business, however, noted that these steps are something which should have been implemented before.
Mitigating features referred to by her Honour included that both defendants had plead guilty at an early stage and had cooperated with the investigation.
Her Honour considered the impact the offending had on the injured worker, noting that he had to learn to walk again, that he can no longer do many things which he used to enjoy doing, and that he suffers ongoing pain.
Her Honour regarded the risk as being obvious, clearly identifiable and foreseeable, noting that the incident is not something that spontaneously arose on the particular day.
In the circumstances, the company was fined $50,000 and the director was fined $7,500. No convictions were recorded.
OWHSP contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sections 19(1) and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011
Sections 27(1) and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011