On 9 October 2020, the defendant company pleaded guilty in the Wynnum Magistrates Court for failure to comply with its work health and safety duty under section 19(1) Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘the Act’), that exposed a worker to a risk of death or serious injury in contravention of section 32 of the Act. The company failed to provide a safe system of work, including the safe use of plant and provision of information, training or supervision. Magistrate Zachary Sarra fined the company $60,000. No conviction was recorded.
The defendant company conducted a warehousing, transport and distribution business, and employed workers to conduct work in the warehouse area, including unloading deliveries of cargo from shipping containers. It was not uncommon for the cargo to include large plastic rolls, measuring approximately 7 metres long and weighing up to 1.6 tonnes. To unload the rolls, a system was utilised whereby each roll was dragged, lifted and manoeuvred individually using a forklift with an attached lifting jib and sling positioned around each roll. This caused the sling to be placed under tension while the roll was lifted and manoeuvred by the forklift. Prior to the incident, the defendant had developed a written procedure for this activity which included a requirement that an exclusion zone was in place prior to moving rolls.
On 8 November 2018, several workers were unloading rolls from a shipping container. This activity was overseen by the defendant’s warehouse manager, a qualified dogman, who was instructing a relatively young and inexperienced worker in the activity. Both were positioned inside the container and in proximity to a roll while it was being moved by a forklift. The young worker reached out to grab the sling with his right hand while it was moving, causing his right thumb to become caught in a pinch point of the sling and partially amputated.
That young worker had not been trained in the work procedure for this activity or of the need to implement an exclusion zone. He was not directed to leave the container while the roll was being moved. The defendant failed to ensure an exclusion zone was enforced while rolls were being moved and failed to ensure workers were properly trained and instructed in the activity.
In sentencing the defendant, Magistrate Sarra observed that work health and safety matters are taken seriously by the courts, with companies holding a large responsibility to ensure workers are treated safely. His Honour observed that companies must take sufficient steps to warn their workers of potential harm, particularly in circumstances involving movement of heavy loads and reliance on machinery. His Honour had regard to the impact of the injuries on the injured worker, who was ultimately able to return to gainful employment.
Magistrate Sarra observed that the defendant had taken prompt action to further reinforce and refine its established work procedures post-incident and reduce the likelihood of this event reoccurring. In mitigation, his Honour had regard to the defendant’s lack of prior convictions, cooperation with the investigation, early guilty plea and that the defendant had shown contrition and remorse.
In determining not to record a conviction, His Honour observed the defendant was a reputable company of good character and had employed all possible means to rectify its wrongs.
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Section 19(1) duty and section 32 offence, Work Health and Safety Act 2011