On 18 March 2022, a water tank manufacturing company was sentenced in the Beenleigh Magistrates Court for breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, having failed to comply with its primary health and safety duty under section 19 of the Act. The defendant was fined $48,000 and no conviction was recorded.
The defendant company was in the business of producing steel water tanks for residential, rural and commercial premises. They had management and control of a piece of plant, namely a roll forming machine used to corrugate to flat metal sheets. The plant was equipped with a guillotine to cut the metal sheets into sections. The guillotine was not fitted with guarding and no Lock Out Tag Out system was in place for the plant.
On 5 February 2020, a worker was conducting pre-start safety checks on the plant. He noticed a metal offcut hanging out of the teeth of the guillotine. The worker grasped the metal and began pulling it out. The guillotine engaged, falling on three of the workers fingers, causing them to be fractured and amputated.
The worker underwent 13 hours of surgery. Four steel rods and eighty stitches were required to reattach his amputated digits. He still does not have full use of these digits and it is unknown whether normal functionality will ever be regained.
The defendant obtained the plant in 2010. No risk assessment was undertaken for the plant before it was put into use. In 2012, a Workplace Health and Safety Queensland inspector attended the workplace to conduct a safety audit. The inspector made no recommendation for the plant to have guarding installed.
In 2018 the defendant employed a work health and safety consultant. As a result of the consultant’s risk assessments, a Safe Work Management System (‘SWMS’) regarding the plant was implemented. The injured worker was involved in the development of the SWMS and had undertaken training in the appropriate use of the plant in accordance with the SWMS in 2018 and 2019. The method which the worker used to remove the scrap metal on this occasion, resulting in his injury, did not accord with the SWMS.
In determining an appropriate penalty, her Honour Magistrate Mossop took into account the maximum penalty of the offence as well as the relevant factors outlined in the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992. Her Honour regarded general deterrence to be of particular importance given the potential for significant consequences to arise from the breach in the circumstances. In mitigation, her Honour acknowledged the defendant’s guilty plea, lack of history, cooperation with the investigation, that (although inadequate), steps had taken to mitigate the risk, and that the injured worker was still employed by the defendant company. Her Honour also took into account the profit and loss statements provided by the defendant, noting their reduction in profit during the 2020-2021 financial year as a result of COVID-19, as being relevant to the capacity of the company to pay a fine.
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Sections 19 and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011