On 13 October 2023, a company which provided services involving cranes was sentenced in the Gympie 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 was contracted to carry out work at the Mary River Pumping Station, on Carlson Road, Coles Creek (the worksite). The company engaged workers, including a relevant worker (‘the worker’), to complete the work. At 9am on 8 October 2020, the worker operated a mobile crane at the worksite. The company had to move concrete covers to a pumping tower located at the foot of an embankment at the worksite. This was to be achieved by a slew crane which was positioned adjacent to the pumping tower. Access to the foot of the embankment was via a very steep road (which was separated into three sections).
The slew crane required three very heavy counterweights to perform its lift. The counterweights needed to be taken from the top of the road to the slew crane. The worker attached the three counterweights to his mobile crane. The worker did not tether the counterweights to his mobile crane. This meant that the counterweights on his mobile crane could swing forwards freely. The worker did not have the assistance of another worker while he attached the counterweights or operated his mobile crane. The worker then drove his mobile crane down the road while the three counterweights were attached to the front of it. The worker reversed his mobile crane down the first section of the road. The worker drove his mobile crane forwards down the third section of the road (contrary to the Mobile Crane Code of Practice 2006). While driving down the third section of the road, the worker lost control of the mobile crane which rolled onto its roof. Neither the worker nor any other worker was injured. However, other workers were working around the same area at the time.
The company knew, or ought to have known about the risk posed by the task. The company had a safe work method statement for work at the worksite (including safe work method statements for the slew crane and the mobile crane), however those documents did not contain specific measures concerning the safe procedure for the movement of counterweights at the worksite. The documents were deficient in terms of the control measures they contained for the relevant task. The company could have eliminated or minimised the risk in the task, by ensuring that the counterweights were not carried on the uphill side of the mobile crane; and/or that the counterweights were tethered by tag lines to the front of the mobile crane; and/or that the worker had the assistance of a dogman for the task; and/or that a maximum of two counterweights were moved at any one time; and/or that the mobile crane was not operated on the road, or part of the road, the gradient of which exceeded that specified by the manufacturer; and/or the development and implementation (by way of adequate training and supervision) of a safe work method statement for the task, incorporating the controls specified in above.
The failure to implement those controls meant that the company contravened its duty to ensure the health and safety of its workers and thereby exposed them to a risk of death or serious injury.
In sentencing Magistrate Hughes noted that the company had a primary duty of care to its worker. Magistrate Hughes accepted that the defendant company knew of the risk and potential serious injury or death that would follow, and that the steps the company should have taken to minimise or eliminate risk ought to have been known to the company. Magistrate Hughes accepted the submission made on behalf of the company that the defendant company did not have a cavalier attitude towards safety, and that had a safe work method statement for the mobile crane which listed a control measure for “slop ground/overturning” – which was insufficient in itself as a procedure to minimise or eliminate risk but was a procedure nonetheless.
Magistrate Hughes characterised the offending as a “careless oversight with grave consequences”, and noted that general deterrence was a strong feature, that that there was less need for specific deterrence because the company had been sold and now no longer operated in the same way it did previously (it now operated as a labour hire company and did not itself provide lifting services).
His Honour fined the company $55,000. Magistrate Hughes did not record a conviction.
Magistrate Hughes also ordered that the defendant company pay $851.40 in prosecution costs for filing the complaint and preparing the sentencing hearing.
OWHSP contact: email@example.com
Sections 19(1) and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011