On 9 June 2022, a manufacturing company was sentenced in the Wynnum 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 to ensure workers’ health and safety, thereby exposing them to the risk of death or serious injury.
The company, which had been operating for 25 years, employed approximately 80 staff.
On 19 August 2020 a worker was making repairs to a mixer. The work required the use of an angle grinder to cut away a fiberglass shell and plywood. In the course of the work the angle grinder “kicked back”, striking the worker in the chest. The worker sustained a 10cm long and 5cm deep laceration to his chest. Surgical intervention was required to clean and close the wound.
While the worker had experience using an angle grinder and working with fibreglass in a previous job, he and other staff of the defendant company had not been adequately trained in the use of an angle grinder so as to identify obvious hazards, and identify where to stand so as to be outside of the potential “kickback” zone of the grinder. Prior to this incident the risk presented by the performance of the specific repair work was not appreciated by the defendant company. The angle grinder made available to the worker to use was fitted with a multi-cut blade, making it more prone to potential “kickback” and was not fitted with an auxiliary handle or appropriate guarding which may have reduced the risk of injury to a worker operating the grinder.
After the incident, the company increased measures directed toward the protection of the safety of workers. The company updated their safe work procedures in relation to the use of angle grinders, retrained all workers on the new procedure, ensured all angle grinders were fitted with auxiliary handles, prohibited the use of multi-cut blades in angle grinders, purchased a platform for use by workers when conducting work above shoulder height, and outsourced the repairs to the mixer to more qualified persons.
In sentencing the defendant, Magistrate Sarra considered the subject events to be an isolated incident, reflective of a degree of complacency rather than indicative of a systemic problem within the company, but noted that it was still incumbent on the company to be proactive in relation to safety requirements and to maintain a level of integrity in the application of safe work practices and procedures. Both general and specific deterrence were relevant to the exercise of the sentencing discretion.
In mitigation, his Honour identified that the defendant company had a solid reputation, worked collaboratively with WHSQ, and been awarded accreditation for their assistance in providing a safe workplace. His Honour also acknowledged the defendant company’s plea of guilty and positive post-offence conduct.
Ultimately, a fine of $50,000 was imposed, and no conviction was recorded.
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Section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.