On 2 November 2020, Holcim (Australia) Pty Ltd pleaded guilty and was sentenced in the Brisbane Magistrates Court for breaching s 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the ‘Act’). The company failed to comply with its work health and safety duty under s 19(1) of the Act.
Holcim Australia operated a worksite at North Rockhampton, which produced concrete pipes and similar products. Part of their operations included casting concrete culverts in steel box culvert moulds.
On 14 July 2017, a production manager directed a crane driver to move a culvert mould from a shed to another location, requiring a dual crane lift. A dual crane lift requires two cranes to work together to lift a load by use of chains. The crane driver sought the assistance of another crane driver and two crane riggers/dogmen. Together the workers attempted to lift the culvert mould, marked ‘estimated self-weight 7,800kg’, with a Franna AT-20 and a Linmac LM 14 crane. The mould in fact weighed approximately 11 tonnes.
After the cranes began the lift, one crane driver observed a steel ladder in the path of travel and advised the other crane driver of this obstacle. When the Linmac operator stopped the crane, it tipped onto its side, trapping two workers inside. Glass windows of the crane’s cabin were smashed to enable the two workers to escape, which caused them minor injuries.
An engineer’s report concluded that the Linmac crane tipped over due to overloading. The report also identified that the load calculation system on the Linmac was malfunctioning at the time of the incident. An investigation conducted by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (‘WHSQ’) identified that no critical lift checklist was undertaken by the defendant in relation to the lift and no lift plan had been developed. If a checklist had been completed, it would have highlighted that the load calculation system on the Linmac was malfunctioning and that the total load being lifted was not within the rated capacity of the crane.
In sentencing the defendant, Magistrate Rosemary Gilbert observed that the defendant was a large company, noting that in Queensland alone it had 560 employees, 98 subcontractors and 12 precast manufacturing sites. Her Honour observed the defence submission that, given its size, the defendant had a long-developed health and safety system. She accepted that the defendant had procedures in place which, if followed, would have identified the malfunction of the Linmac load calculation system and avoided the risk.
The Magistrate accepted that the defendant’s health and safety system was regularly reviewed and modified. Her Honour noted the specific changes made as a result of this incident, including counselling and coaching of staff and managers and further refining of the critical lift checklist. She noted that, at the time of the offence, the defendant had already commenced a health and safety review (after a fatality at their Townsville premises some three months prior) and was rolling out changes at other sites, which were set to be implemented at this site.
Magistrate Gilbert was satisfied that, despite the defendant’s previous convictions, it was otherwise a good corporate citizen, acknowledging its substantial contributions to charity and awards for work health and safety. Her Honour took into account the defendant’s previous convictions, noting they were factually quite different and that two of the incidents had occurred more than 10 years ago (in 2006 and 2008) and were prosecuted under the repealed WHS Act. Her Honour accepted that, since that time, the company has undergone significant restructuring. Her Honour considered that the recent Townsville incident was similar, in that it was also a Category 2 offence.
In sentencing the defendant, the Magistrate took into account the company’s early plea of guilty and cooperation with the investigation, accepting these were an indication of remorse. Her Honour also had regard to the actions taken following this incident and the Townsville incident, which included, inter alia, the engagement of an external health and safety business, revised job safety requirements, and improvements to safety documents and procedures. Magistrate Gilbert observed that the post-incident steps were applied nationwide, indicating a concerted effort to stop further incidents from occurring.
In ordering that a conviction be recorded, her Honour noted that this was now the defendant company’s fourth breach of work health and safety legislation.
OWHSP contact: email@example.com
ss 19(1) and 32, Work Health and Safety Act 2011