On 18 March 2022, a transportation and warehousing company was sentenced in the Beenleigh 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 under section 19(1) of the Act. Her Honour Magistrate Tracy Mossop fined the defendant $45,000. No conviction was recorded.
The defendant conducted a business providing bulk handling and national distribution services, including the storage and distribution of the chemical substance calcium oxide, known as ‘quicklime’. Direct exposure to quicklime is considered hazardous to persons, especially if aspirated or brought into contact with the eyes.
Prior to August 2018, the quicklime was delivered and stored in iso-tanks. This process did not pose a risk of exposure to workers, as the quicklime remained in the tanks. In August 2018, the process changed and required the defendant to decant the quicklime between containers. During this process the quicklime would often spill onto the ground and need to be cleaned up by workers.
In March 2019, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland issued improvement notices to the defendant to ensure there was a Safe Work Management System in place and that workers had access to appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for working with quicklime.
On 13 August 2019, a worker employed on a casual basis completed a general induction for the defendant company. This induction did not pertain to work with hazardous chemicals. On 14 August 2019, the worker completed a walkaround of the workplace with his supervisor, but was not shown where the first aid station was.
The worker was given instructions to clean a room next to the room where the quicklime was stored. He was wearing disposable boots, shorts, a long-sleeved jumper and a mask without a filter. The worker subsequently moved to the adjacent room where the quicklime was stored and continued cleaning.
The worker was using a broom and shovel to sweep up the quicklime and shovel it into a one-tonne bin. After a short break, he sought to acquire protective eyewear to wear while completing the work. He found a set of safety glasses outside the quicklime storage room, which he put on.
While the worker was removing a grate from the quicklime bin, the grate fell to the ground causing some quicklime to become airborne and make contact with his eyes. Another worker took him to the bathroom in the office where he was put under the shower for 40-45 minutes. He was subsequently transported to hospital where he underwent extensive irrigation of the eyes. He was diagnosed to have suffered alkali burns to both eyes for which he was prescribed ointment and drops by way of treatment.
In sentencing the defendant, Magistrate Mossop observed that the incident whereby the worker was injured arose in circumstances where safe work systems were inadequate, and there was a failure to train a new worker in the risks associated with quicklime. Her Honour further noted that the worker should never have been in the quicklime storage room and the defendant had failed to ensure that he did not enter the room.
Subsequent to the incident, the defendant had provided all staff with additional training in the use of quicklime, and increased the availability and quality of PPE provided. By the time of sentence, the defendant’s business activities no longer involved the use of quicklime. Her Honour concluded that while general deterrence was an important sentencing consideration in this case, specific deterrence was less relevant.
Her Honour also had regard to the defendant’s plea of guilty, co-operation with the investigation and financial capacity in determining the appropriate level of fine to impose.
OWHSP contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sections 19(1) and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011