On 19 January 2024, a timber manufacturer was sentenced in the Brisbane 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 pursuant to section 19(1) of the Act.
The defendant conducted a business which included receiving large packs of timber which were stacked and stored for later use in the manufacturing process. The workplace operated by using forklifts to stack the timber. The packs of timber weighed between 1262kg and 2355kg and were stacked at heights of around 4.95 metres.
On 10 March 2022, a worker was using a forklift to retrieve a pack of timber when four other packs dislodged from the surrounding stacks, falling directly onto the forklift. The overhead guarding to the forklift was crushed and the worker was pinned until other workers were able to free him. Consequently, he suffered two fractured vertebrae in his neck, left side numbness and cuts and bruises to his head. He required surgery, remained in hospital for six days and continues to suffer greatly because of the incident.
The defendant failed to implement control measures which included a procedure for how to stack the packs of timber which prescribed the maximum height and configuration the packs of timber could be stacked, and training for workers who operated the forklifts in relation to the stacking procedure.
In sentencing, Magistrate Mack considered the material placed before him and took into account the defendant’s early plea of guilty, the principles specified in the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992, and the specific Work Health and Safety considerations distilled in common law. His Honour placed emphasis on the risk and probability of the risk materializing, noting that the risk was catastrophic and the consequences were significant for the victim. He acknowledged that the measures were simple but noted that he could not assess whether moving all of the stacks and implementing a stacking procedure would have been a cumbersome task.
In mitigation, His Honour took into account the defendant’s early plea of guilty, remorse, the fact that knowledge of the risk was not present before the incident, and that the defendant had, prior to the incident, purchased two new forklifts. His Honour found that the defendant had some engineering controls in place in the form of the overhead guarding to the forklift, but noted that the procedures were plainly deficient. His Honour concluded that the plea of guilty was demonstrative of remorse, and that recording a conviction was not required.
The prevalence of incidents of a similar nature and community denunciation were taken into account and His Honour addressed the probability of the risk materializing being a relevant consideration.
In light of these factors, His Honour convicted the defendant without recording a conviction, ordered a fine of $80,000, and $1,601.40 total in costs. Payment was referred to SPER.
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Sections 19(1) & 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011