On 12 November 2021, a harvesting company was sentenced in the Dalby 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 under section 19(1) of the Act.
The defendant company conducted a business or undertaking engaging in tree clearing and logging services. The operations of the defendant included brigalow harvesting from private farmland around the Dalby Region. In early April 2019, the defendant was engaged to harvest brigalow trees on a commercial property. In the course of that work, the defendant used a John Deere 540B Grapple Skidder for moving felled trees in a process called ‘skidding,’ in which logs are transported by a winch cable from a cutting site to a collection point.
On 15 April 2019, the defendant engaged an 18-year-old worker to operate the skidder on a trial basis. The worker did not have any prior experience in operating forestry machinery and was only shown the basic operation of the skidder in a 10-minute demonstration. He was not provided with a formal induction or training regarding the risks associated with the operation of the skidder. There was no documented safe work method for the operation of the skidder and the defendant had not documented any formal risk assessment of the plant. The worker operated the skidder without supervision.
On 9 May 2019, the worker used chains to secure three logs from a tree line to the winch of the skidder in the course of his duties. He climbed onto the ‘pivot plate’ of the skidder, located between the cabin and the winch drum, and engaged the winch lever to winch in the line. The worker placed his left boot on top of the winch line to guide the line onto the winch drum when his boot became caught in the winch line and his leg was suddenly drawn into the winch housing.
The worker used his mobile phone to call his mother, who subsequently phoned and alerted another worker who was approximately 200 metres away. That worker attended the scene and contacted emergency services.
Queensland Ambulance Service subsequently attended and provided critical care to the worker until a Life Flight medical retrieval team arrived. After assessing the worker, the Life Flight team amputated his left leg to free him from the winch. He was subsequently conveyed by helicopter to hospital where he was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit in an induced coma.
In sentencing the defendant, Magistrate O’Callaghan remarked that general deterrence must form a key part of any penalty imposed for offences of this type and that significant penalties were called for to send a message to employers and businesses that a failure to comply with health and safety duties is a very serious matter. Her Honour had regard to the maximum penalty for the offending and remarked that it indicated the seriousness with which offences of this nature are viewed by the legislature.
Magistrate O’Callaghan considered both the high likelihood of the hazard occurring and the degree of resulting harm. Her Honour noted that the task involved workers operating closely to an exposed winch cable and that the degree of resulting harm was evident by the serious injuries suffered. Her Honour remarked that there was an obvious need for workers to interact with the winch cable of the skidder, and that the risks of the work were significantly increased when workers were not adequately trained and supervised.
Magistrate O’Callaghan accepted that the defendant was solely to blame for the offending and that the offence constituted an almost complete failure to implement control measures to reduce the risk to workers. Her Honour took into account the serious and life-threatening injuries suffered by the worker and that those injuries were enduring. Her Honour also had regard to the ongoing impact that the incident has had on the worker’s mental health.
Having regard to all matters, as well as the comparable decisions referred to by the prosecution, Magistrate O’Callaghan convicted and fined the defendant $150,000 and exercised her discretion not to record a conviction.
OWHSP contact: email@example.com
Sections 19(1) and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011