On 8 March 2021, following a hearing in the Southport Magistrates Court, a Gold Coast-based jumping castle rental company was found guilty of an offence against section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the ‘Act’). The prosecution alleged the company, which pleaded not guilty, failed to meet its primary safety duty under section 19(1) of the Act.
The defendant ran a business that rented jumping castles to customers in the Gold Coast region. As part of its business or undertaking, the defendant company employed casual workers to drop off, set up and collect rental jumping castles. The castles were delivered in a truck by the casual workers and were inflated by the workers using either a main power source or a generator, depending on the location.
At the start of each shift, the casual workers would collect a pre-packed Pantec truck together with a ‘run sheet’ containing details of the deliveries or collections for the day. The trucks were pre-packed by a supervisor and were not viewed by the workers prior to their shift.
The casual workers were provided on the job training by the defendant company in the form of a buddy system, where a less experienced worker would be paired with a more experienced worker for a day or so for training. The defendant company had no formal safety training in place for its workers and no specific training in regard to the use or transporting of the generator.
On 10 February 2018, three casual workers were delivering the last jumping castle for the day to a customer at Tallebudgera. All three workers had been employed by the defendant for six months or less, and it was the first day of employment for one of those workers. Upon arriving at Tallebudgera, the workers opened the back doors of the truck and were confronted with the immediate smell of petrol fumes. The workers observed a generator on its side surrounded by a puddle of petrol on the floor. The generator had not been secured within the truck to prevent it from overturning.
In the course of attempting to clean up the petrol, two of the workers climbed into the back of the truck and retrieved the generator. The workers observed a battery hanging off the side of the generator by a wire and observed the petrol cap was loose. One worker attempted to put the battery back into the generator which caused the wires to spark and an explosion in the back of the truck. As a result of the explosion, the two workers suffered significant burn injuries. There was no fire safety equipment on the truck at the time of the incident.
A post-incident fire scene examination by the Queensland Police Service found the generator to be the most probable ignition source leading to the explosion and fire, noting the situation present in the rear of the truck caused all three components of the fire triangle to be present (oxygen, fuel source and ignition source). Expert evidence was adduced at the hearing to establish that the generator should have been secured whilst being transported in the truck.
His Honour found the incident arose from a combination of events, including the generator not being secured, the lack of training to the workers and the lack of safety equipment on the truck. His Honour noted that securing the generator would have stopped the incident from occurring and would not have been overly burdensome to the defendant.
In sentencing the defendant, his Honour relied upon the decision in Reynolds v Tailored Adventures Pty Ltd  QDC 150, particularly in relation to objective seriousness.
In mitigation, the learned Magistrate had regard to the effect the penalty may have on the company. His Honour took into account the small size of the company, the impact of COVID-19, which included a halved turnover and less employees, with the number of employees falling from around 25 to 6. The Magistrate also took into account the limited financial assistance provided to the two injured workers by the defendant.
His Honour considered, as an important aspect of specific deterrence, a significant change in management processes and procedures post-incident. This included the purchase of new generators that were fitted with fire safety equipment, the introduction of formal training to workers on fire safety and generator use, and the revamping of the buddy system to include a supervisor signing off on training.
His Honour noted the need for general deterrence, particularly in circumstances where the incident could have been easily avoided. His Honour had regard to the defendant’s otherwise good criminal history, with no previous convictions. The learned Magistrate also had regard to the company having had no safety issues since the incident.
His Honour exercised his discretion not to record a conviction.
OWHSP contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sections 32 & 19(1) – Work Health and Safety Act 2011