On 15 November 2023, a company which provided piling services to solar farms was sentenced in the Dalby Magistrates Court for failing to comply with a health and safety duty, and in doing so, exposing workers to a risk of death or serious injury.
The offending occurred between 1 May 2021 and 16 July 2021 while the defendant was contracted by the principal contractor of a Solar Farm at Hookswood to provide piling services. At around 11:30am on Saturday, 15 July 2021, one of the defendant’s workers was struck by a 4.7-kilogram metal bar while working on a piling rig at the Solar Farm. The metal bar was propelled into the worker after 12 Dulux galvanised aerosol cans exploded while they were stored inside a toolbox which was positioned on the same piling rig.
The offending involved the defendant failing to eliminate or minimise the risk of the aerosol cans erupting, which in turn posed a risk of death or serious injury to workers. The defendant ought to have known about that risk, because they had a safety data sheet for the aerosol cans which noted that the aerosol cans were hazardous, contained flammable aerosol and were pressurised and may burst if heated. The defendant also had a manual for the piling rig which warned that some surfaces of the piling rig including the engine could become very hot. The toolbox was positioned 11 centimetres away from the piling rig engine air outlet, this blew warm air onto the toolbox while the piling rig operated.
The force of the explosion was such that the 4.7-kilogram metal bar which struck the worker was found approximately 2 meters away from the piling rig. Also, the damaged aerosol cans and other bits of debris were found strewn around the piling rig, including at distances of up to 23 meters away from the piling rig.
Fortunately, the three workers who were nearby at the time of explosion (including the worker who was struck by the metal bar) were not injured.
The defendant’s safety procedure for the piling process did not contain any specific procedures relating to the safe storage of the aerosol cans, and incorrectly noted that there were no hazardous substances used during the piling process.
The defendant failed to eliminate or minimise, the risk of the aerosol cans erupting by failing to ensure that the defendant’s safety procedure included a warning concerning the storage of the aerosol cans near sources of heat; and the defendant should have provided a safe location for the storage of the aerosol cans; and the defendant should have trained its workers to store the aerosol cans in a safe location away from sources of heat; and the defendant’s safety procedure should have prescribed that a safe location for the storage of the aerosol cans was provided and specified that workers were required to store the aerosol cans in that safe location.
After the incident the defendant removed flammable liquids and gases from storage within the piling rig; conducted an internal investigation into the incident; updated their safety procedure to include a section about flammable liquid restrictions and controls; provided portable vented storage containers for the safe storage of the aerosol cans at worksites; and instructed its workers to store the aerosol cans in those new containers.
Acting Magistrate Bice considered that the defendant had no prior criminal history and that the defendant generally acted well by implementing post-incident control shortly after the offending. However, the defendant should have been aware of the relevant risk, and by failing to implement control measures prior to the incident, exposed a worker to a risk of death or serious injury. His Honour also ameliorated the penalty due to the defendant’s early plea of guilty and the defendant’s co-operation, including voluntary admissions made by the director of the defendant on behalf of the defendant to Workplace Health and Safety.
Acting Magistrate Bice took into account section 3 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) – the principle that workers ought to be given the highest level of protection - and the sentencing principles of personal and general deterrence under section 9 of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld). His Honour held that that, although the workers present during the incident did not suffer injuries, the potential consequences of the risk included a risk of death or serious injury, the likelihood of the risk eventuating was identifiable given the use of the aerosol cans, the steps to minimise or eliminate the risk were not difficult to implement and were in fact implemented by the defendant after the offending, and that the maximum penalty was a fine of $1,500,000.
His Honour also considered the comparable cases he was referred to, and that the defendant had suffered a downturn in work in the time since 2021 and as such had a limited capacity to pay.
Acting Magistrate Bice fined the defendant $40,000. His Honour did not record a conviction. The defendant was given 12 months to pay the fine, and in default the fine was referred to SPER.
The defendant was also ordered to pay $1,500 in professional costs to the prosecution and $101.40 for the filing fee for the complaint.
OWHSP contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Section 32 and 19(1) Work Health and Safety Act