On 13 March 2023, a concrete piling company was sentenced in the Southport 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.
The company owned a concrete pump as part of its business. Workers for the company were required to clean the pump as part of their role.
The pump contained a manual dump valve which, when activated, released hydraulic pressure to the swing tube that was in the machine. A Safe Work Method Statement created by the company for concreting operations recorded hydraulic pressure was to be released prior to cleaning inside of the hopper. However, staff were not trained in how to manually exhaust the pressure and did not know how to use the valve.
On 26 November 2018, the company was performing work at a site in Biggera Waters. The initial task of grouting, for which a separate Safe Work Method Statement had been signed at the site, was changed to concreting.
The concrete pump was used to place concrete into foundation piles. A worker cleaned the pump and when cleaning noticed there was a buildup of concrete underneath the swing tube of the pump that could not be removed with water pressure. He lifted the hopper grate of the pump, got inside the hopper, and used a hammer to release the buildup of concrete. Whilst doing so, debris entered one of the cylinders of the pump and under the swing tube.
The worker got out of the pump and asked a colleague to move the swing tube to the other side who did as he was asked. The worker got back into the hopper and put his arm into the open cylinder to move the concrete debris.
The swing arm activated and moved over to the cylinder which had his arm in it. The worker’s arm was crushed, and he sustained a subtotal amputation of his left hand. He was hospitalized for approximately 1 month and required multiple surgeries.
After this incident, the company modified the pump so that any accumulated hydraulic pressure was automatically exhausted when the hopper grate was opened.
In sentencing, it was raised that at the heart of the failure was that the company failed to provide workers with adequate training on how to exhaust accumulated pressure, failed to ensure the cleaning of the pump was carried out in accordance with the Concrete Pumping Code of Practice and failed to implement an engineering control to ensure air pressure was automatically exhausted when the hopper grate was opened. The company’s representatives accepted there were shortcomings in their training on the pump and the dump valve.
Magistrate Pink took into account the maximum penalty, the company’s timely plea of guilty and the purposes of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 as requiring positive steps to be taken. Her Honour found the company had documented systems in place as to safety measures and had continued to update their procedures post-incident. Her Honour accepted a submission that the worker was employing a method of cleaning that was not anticipated by the company and found as such the company was not one where general deterrence was an appropriate vehicle for sentencing. Her Honour found there was less weight to specific deterrence in light of evidence suggesting the company expected to cease operations.
Her Honour sentenced the company to a $60,000 fine with no conviction recorded, noting in her remarks she reduced the fine as tendered financial documents demonstrated a limited capacity to pay. The fine and a costs order were referred to SPER for enforcement.
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Section 19(1), 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011