On 27 October 2022, the director of a tyre recycling company was sentenced in the Brisbane Magistrates Court for breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘the Act’). The defendant pleaded guilty to failing to exercise due diligence to ensure the company complied with its primary health and safety duty, thereby exposing workers to the risk of death or serious injury.
The company conducted a tyre recycling business from a factory at Rocklea. The recycling process produced rubber granules from disused tyres for onward commercialisation. The company acquired a number of machines for carrying out the tyre recycling process. The task of feeding material into, and retrieving material from, the machines meant that the operator’s hands would often be near exposed shear or crush points. The operator would be at risk of death or serious injury from incidental contact with an exposed cutting blade or crushing surface.
Work Health & Safety Queensland (‘WHSQ’) first became aware of the hazardous machines operated by workers following an unrelated incident at the factory in July 2017. On 18 July 2017, WHSQ issued notices prohibiting the use of the machines by workers until the company had remedied the risk of injury that the machines presented when in operation. The defendant instructed a worker to fabricate metal mesh guarding to limit access to shear and crush points. By 25 July 2017, this had been installed on at least the slicing and chipping machines.
In February 2019, guarding had been removed from some of the machines. WHSQ inspectors reiterated to supervisors at the company that the operation of the machines without appropriate guarding was dangerous to health and safety. On 12 March 2019, WHSQ inspectors raised this issue with the defendant in person.
On 30 separate days between 22 November 2019 and 2 April 2020, workers were observed operating the machinery without any guarding in place. Guarding was either removed or moved aside when the machines were in operation. The defendant was aware that workers were operating the machines in an unguarded state and did not instruct workers to stop operating the machines without guarding in place, nor cause measures to be implemented that would prevent the machines from being so used.
On 2 April 2020, a worker was operating the de-beading machine to separate steel wire beads from sliced tyres. The rotating metal rollers of the de-beading machine were completely exposed to the worker. As the rollers pressed and separated the steel wire bead from the tyre, the glove on his right hand became caught and it was dragged into the crush point between the rollers.
The worker’s thumb and fifth finger were partly amputated while his index and third fingers were fully amputated. His ring finger was fractured. The worker was immediately taken to hospital where his amputated index and third fingers were surgically reattached. The functioning of his right hand was unable to be fully restored.
In sentencing, Magistrate Howard had regard to the sentencing considerations set out in section 9(1) of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 and regarded that a just punishment and general deterrence were relevant sentencing factors. Her Honour had regard to the maximum penalty for the offending and remarked that it indicated the seriousness with which offences of this nature are viewed by the legislature.
Her Honour took into account the defendant’s plea of guilty and noted that it demonstrated remorse and a willingness to assist the administration of justice. Her Honour also took into account the antecedents of the defendant, who was of otherwise good character with no prior convictions under work health and safety legislation. Her Honour remarked that the defendant has learnt a costly lesson as a consequence of the prosecution brought against him personally and has relinquished his engagement as a Corporate Officer.
Having regard to all matters, as well as the comparable decisions referred to by the parties, Magistrate Howard convicted and fined the defendant $60,000 and exercised her discretion not to record a conviction.
OWHSP contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sections 27(1) and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011