On 8 August 2022, a Darling Downs abattoir was sentenced in the Toowoomba 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 pursuant to section 19(1) of the Act.
The defendant owned and operated an abattoir plant located at Oakey since approximately 1986. The abattoir and processing plant contained a number of production lines and included a rendering plant. By-products from the rendering plant were conveyed by a large metal screw (the screw auger), which rotates within a tube. The conveyor tube and screw auger ran directly underneath a walkway built around the machinery. The walkway included a rectangular void which allowed access to the screw auger. The void was covered by a hatch that was not secured by any means and had been unable to be locked into position for more than four years.
On 10 July 2018 a worker was tasked with cleaning the machinery in the rendering plant. In the process of cleaning the plant, he lifted the metal hatch covering the auger so that it could be hosed directly with warm water. The worker slipped into the void, and his right foot was caught by the auger, causing an amputation injury of his entire foot.
In sentencing the defendant, Magistrate Shephard took into account the defendant’s timely plea of guilty and reduced the penalty that would otherwise have been imposed. Her Honour remarked that the plea was an indication of remorse and a willingness to facilitate the course of justice.
Her Honour had regard to the purposes of the Act and the principle that workers and other persons should be given the highest level of protection against harm to their health, safety and welfare from hazards and risks arising from work, so far as is reasonably practicable.
In determining the culpability of the defendant, Magistrate Shephard had regard to the indicators of seriousness enunciated by the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal in Nash v Silver City Drilling (NSW) Pty Ltd. Her Honour remarked that the potential consequences of the risk posed was a worker being killed or sustaining serious injury as a result of being entrapped in the auger. Her Honour considered that the risk posed was obvious, and the likelihood of the risk arising was moderate to high when considering the nature of the hazard and the prolonged period of time it was improperly guarded. Her Honour remarked that the defendant could have minimised the risk by ensuring the hatch was properly locked and secured, or by installing an interlock, and that those steps could have easily been implemented.
Her Honour had regard to the serious nature of the injuries suffered by the worker and the ongoing impact they have on his life.
Her Honour took into account the defendant’s prior convictions for breaches of work health safety duties but noted that they were dated and involved breaches of a substantially different, and significantly less serious nature.
In mitigation, Her Honour took into account the significant post-incident measures implemented by the defendant. Her Honour also took into account the defendant’s cooperation with the WHSQ investigation, and otherwise proactive approach towards health and safety within the workplace. For those reasons, Her Honour considered that there were strong prospects of rehabilitation and that specific deterrence was of less relevance in this matter.
Having regard to all matters, as well as the comparable decisions referred to by the parties, Magistrate Shephard convicted and fined the defendant $140,000 and exercised her discretion not to record a conviction.
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Sections 19(1) and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011