On 11 December 2020, a manufacturing company was sentenced in the Southport Magistrates Court for an offence against section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘Act’), for failing to comply with their duty under section 19(1) of the Act. Magistrate Grace Kahlert convicted and fined the defendant $50,000.
The defendant operated a business that used water jet cutting machines to cut various materials. On 23 February 2018, two workers who were employed by the defendant were using a forklift to move porcelain stone panels (‘panels’) from an A-Frame storage rack (‘the A-Frame’) to a cutting machine. In order to do so, one worker operated the forklift to move a panel with the lifting jib and slab lifter. Another worker assisted by guiding the panel out of the A-Frame and holding the panel to prevent it from rotating. As the panel was being lifted out and over other panels in the A-Frame, the lifting jib or body of the forklift contacted a steel beam above the A-Frame and caused the panel to fracture. The fractured panel fell onto the worker holding the panel and caused a serious injury to his left arm. The A-Frame had been moved to a location underneath the beam prior to the incident. It was previously located in a position where the forklift or lifting jib could not contact the beam even if it was at full extension.
In sentencing, Magistrate Kahlert took into account that the defendant was found guilty following a trial and did not have the benefit of an early guilty plea. Her Honour observed that this matter involved an injury to a young person with ongoing consequences for that person.
In mitigation, her Honour had regard to the defendant’s remorse indicated by an affidavit provided to the Court. After reading it, her Honour accepted that the defendant had taken steps after the incident to offer the injured worker support and continued employment. Her Honour further accepted that the workplace had a good safety culture. Her Honour concluded that the failure to enforce a ban on a vertical lift of the panels led to the incident occurring and noted that the defendant had taken steps to prohibit the vertical lift from occurring in the same manner since the incident.
Her Honour had regard to the defendant’s financial situation, and observed that it had been trading at a profit prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and was trading at a loss following the pandemic. Her Honour acknowledged the downturn of financial circumstances as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic but noted that the defendant was still trading.
Her Honour took into account s 9 of the Penalties and Sentences Act and the general principles of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. Her Honour highlighted that the legislation is important as it exists to protect workers from injuries, that the fine must deter others from cutting corners and not taking all reasonably practicable steps to ensure the safety of employees at work.
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Sections 19(1) & 32, Work Health and Safety Act 2011