On 17 April 2024, a long-standing director of a company engaged in the business of manufacturing and supplying bakery products was sentenced in the Townsville Magistrates Court for breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘the Act’). The defendant pleaded guilty to failing to exercise due diligence over a period of 18 months to ensure that the company complied with its health and safety duty, thereby exposing workers to the risk of death or serious injury.

The company purchased a conveyor in 2013, which was installed in the packing room at the workplace and used to move frozen product from the freezer to the packing room. Sometime in May 2019, the belt of the conveyor was replaced. It was threaded in such a way that exposed the tension roller on its underside, creating an unguarded nip point between the roller and the conveyor belt which was accessible by workers. It was from this date that the charged period commenced.

Cleaning of the conveyor, a daily task, often occurred while it was still operational. The task was hazardous in that it posed a risk to the health and safety of workers, namely the possibility of serious injury if part of a worker’s body became caught or entangled in the moving parts of the plant. On 23 October 2020, a worker was using a scraper to clean product from the tension roller on the underside of the conveyor. To reach the build-up, the worker crouched under the conveyor belt, which was operational at the time. His sleeve got caught by the rotating tension roller and was pulled in, contorting his left arm around the tension roller, where he was trapped for over one hour. The worker suffered multiple fractures of his left arm, which required surgery, and he remained in hospital for five days, and unable to work for at least four months.

Post incident, the defendant ensured that the company swiftly developed and implemented a standard operating procedure for the cleaning task, which included that the belt be switched off during cleaning and, further, if the rollers were caked with product the new procedure dictated that there was an extra clean which first required isolation of the control panel with a padlock on the main power switch.

The company had earlier, on 12 December 2023, pleaded guilty to failing to comply with its primary duty, and was fined $55,000 on 18 December 2023. In the instant matter, the defendant accepted, by his plea of guilty, that for almost 18 months he failed to exercise due diligence to ensure that the company complied with its health and safety duty, and the failure exposed an individual to a risk of death or serious injury. The defendant’s failing consisted of failing to ensure the development and implementation of a safe work procedure for cleaning the plant. It was submitted that this was a significant failing on his part, when regard was had to his level of involvement in the workplace and awareness of the conveyor belt, and that the development and implementation of a safe work procedure was entirely within his domain to control, and was simple and inexpensive.

In sentencing, Magistrate Lehmann considered that the offending was serious and that the maximum penalty was indicative of that, and that the worker had suffered serious injuries. His Honour also found that general deterrence and community denunciation formed a key part of the court’s consideration, but that there were substantial mitigating factors to consider, which meant that specific deterrence did not loom large. His Honour ultimately found that the charge was relatively narrow and the defendant’s culpability was at the lower end, particularly given it was not a case where there were no work health and safety measures in place. His Honour heavily focused on the many matters in mitigation, including the defendant’s timely plea of guilty and lack of criminal history. It was also accepted that the defendant was remorseful, and had taken multiple steps following the incident to improve safety. His Honour also considered that the defendant fostered an inclusive workplace that employed many people in a regional area, whilst also making significant donations to Foodbank and contributing to the community in terms of scoring, umpiring and coaching sport.

After weighing up all of the factors, including the aggravating and mitigating matters, his Honour fined the defendant $5,000 and exercised his discretion to not record a conviction. Costs of $1,601.40 were also ordered.

OWHSP contact: enquiries@owhsp.qld.gov.au

Court Report

Transport, postal and warehousing
Date of offence
Multiple fractures to left arm which required surgery
Townsville Magistrates Court
Magistrate or judge
Magistrate R Lehmann
Decision date
Company Officer

Sections 27 and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011

Maximum fine available
Professional and legal costs
Court costs
In default period
Time to pay
2 months, then referred to SPER
Conviction recorded