On 23 May 2022, a fertiliser company was sentenced in the Caboolture Magistrates Court for breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘the Act’). The defendant company pleaded guilty to failing to comply with its primary health and safety duty, thereby exposing workers to the risk of death or serious injury.
The company produced bags of fertiliser at its factory. The bags were moved along a conveyor belt to be sealed, flattened and stacked onto pallets by machinery. Workers were required to inspect the bags as they moved along the conveyor belt. Despite the risk presented, the company did not undertake a risk assessment or develop safe operating procedures for performing work in proximity to the moving conveyor. The defendant company failed to ensure adequate guarding was installed and exclusion zones implemented to minimise the potential for workers to interact with the moving conveyor. These failures by the defendant company exposed workers to the risk of death or serious injury from falling onto, or otherwise contacting, the moving conveyor.
On 10 March 2020, the risk materialised for a worker who was working near a dangerous section of the conveyor. The worker became trapped in a part of the machinery designed to flatten bags. By the time another worker found him, the worker was unconscious and unable to be revived. His injuries included a severe traumatic brain injury which resulted in his death.
In sentencing, Magistrate Blanch observed specific and general deterrence were substantial considerations in this case. His Honour found it was an aggravating feature that the “necessary and vital steps” which could have prevented the risk presented in this case were neither elaborate nor onerous. His Honour also had regard to the tragic consequences for the deceased worker and the impact of his death on the worker’s family.
His Honour took into account the defendant’s guilty plea, which was accepted as evidencing the company’s acknowledgement that its failures had contributed to the worker’s death. Prior to these events the defendant had been in operation since 1993. The company did not have any prior record of contravening its health and safety obligations. The defendant had started a process of implementing safety systems at the workplace before the incident happened. After the incident, the company took steps to address the risks posed by the conveyor belt. It also gave assistance to the family of the deceased worker.
Magistrate Blanch determined a fine of $250,000 to be appropriate in all the circumstances. His Honour decided against recording a conviction, due to the defendant’s otherwise good corporate character and evidence of contrition.
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Sections 19(1) and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011