On 4 December 2020, the defendant pleaded guilty and was sentenced in the Brisbane Magistrates Court for an offence against section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘the Act’). The prosecution alleged the company failed to comply with their health and safety duty under section 21 of the Act. Magistrate Colin Strofield imposed a fine of $30,000 and no conviction was recorded.
The defendant company operated a business that manufactured nutritional supplements for livestock, with the manufacturing process causing a corrosive salt dust environment. The defendant owned an electric pallet jack, used by workers to lift, move and stack material. On 14 July 2018, a worker was working in front of the pallet jack when the plant travelled forward of its own accord. The worker was pinned by the pallet jack against a mixer. A second worker attempted to reverse the pallet jack, which moved backwards a little before again moving forward and hitting the worker a second time. The injured worker sustained a fractured left tibia which required surgery.
Investigations by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (‘WHSQ’) revealed that the automatic braking system of the pallet jack was failing and that the plant would continue to move without human intervention. This failure was caused by corrosion around the springs in the control handle, combined with a faulty microswitch. The pallet jack manufacturer recommended scheduled maintenance in accordance with its service and parts manual, and specified that maintenance should occur more frequently in corrosive environments like the defendant’s workplace. The defendant did not have any documented policies and procedures for the plant’s maintenance and relied on workers to raise faults and damage with its supervisor or maintenance staff.
Post incident, the defendant immediately removed the pallet jack from commission and undertook a broad review of its safety and maintenance policies and procedures.
In sentencing, Magistrate Strofield had regard to the defendant’s early guilty plea and lack of prior offending, as well as established commitment to work health and safety within its workplace. At the time of the incident, the defendant had a dedicated work health and safety officer and maintenance team, with relevant systems in place other than deficiencies with respect to maintenance of the pallet jack. His Honour considered that specific deterrence had been addressed by the defendant’s post incident steps, and confirmed that general deterrence was a paramount consideration to send a clear message that workers were entitled to be protected and that appropriate penalties would be imposed where there was a risk to workers’ health and safety.
His Honour determined that a fine of $40,000 would be appropriate where the nature of the risk posed was that of serious injury and considering the lack of maintenance on the pallet jack. However, with regard to the mitigating factors, his Honour imposed a fine in the sum of $30,000. A conviction was not recorded.
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Section 21 and section 32 Work Health and Safety Act 2011