On 25 March 2022, a local government body (‘the body’) was sentenced in the Rockhampton Magistrates Court for breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘the Act’), having failed to comply with its primary health and safety duty under section 19 of the Act. His Honour Magistrate Cameron Press fined the defendant $75 000. No conviction was recorded.
As part of its business, the body had management and use of several ride-on lawnmowers to mow land maintained by the body. One of the mowers was a Toro Groundmaster 7210 mower (‘the mower’). The mower had a rear discharge chute.
The mower was purchased by the body on 15 December 2016 and had been serviced four times before 17 March 2020, most recently in November 2019.
On 17 March 2020, a worker was mowing the grass along the edge of James Street, Gracemere. A rock ejected out of the mower’s rear discharge chute and flew through the driver side window of a school bus turning onto the street, striking the driver in the head.
The driver sustained a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain. He required surgery to remove bone fragments from his brain. He spent seven days in hospital.
A post incident inspection revealed that the underdeck of the mower was substantially damaged, with a number of the safety features being bent, broken or missing. Relevantly, the rear discharge flap designed to prevent rocks from being ejected out of the discharge chute was completely worn out. A further five mowers under the management of the defendant were also found to have unsatisfactory guarding.
In sentencing the defendant, Magistrate Press observed the risk of injury from mower propelled debris, including stones, to be patently obvious. Also obvious was the need for guards, and the risk of injury or death to others if such guards were in a poor condition. The likelihood of such risk materialising was here increased due to the land area the defendant was responsible for and the frequency of mowing conducted. While there were systems in place, they were insufficient.
In determining the appropriate penalty, Magistrate Press took into account the objectives of the Act and the purposes of sentencing as outlined in the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992. His Honour considered community denunciation and general deterrence to be very relevant in this matter. Specific deterrence was also relevant in circumstances where the defendant had a previous conviction for breaching section 32 of the Act.
In mitigation, his Honour took into account the defendant’s guilty plea, its cooperation with the investigation, and that the defendant took immediate and significant remedial action at substantial cost to the defendant.
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Sections 19 and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011