On 23 July 2021, a transport company was sentenced in the Wynnum 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. Magistrate Sarra convicted and fined the defendant. His Honour did not record a conviction.
The defendant operated a heavy haulage transport business and employed several truck drivers. On 4 September 2019, a driver was due to drive a prime mover connected to a dolly trailer and a low loader to transport mining equipment from the Port of Brisbane. At approximately 10:30am, the worker arrived at the Port of Brisbane and parked the prime mover. Shortly afterwards, the worker approached another driver to borrow a rattle gun and airline to ‘change a tyre’. Approximately 15 minutes later, a loud explosive noise was heard from the direction of the prime mover. The worker was found unresponsive underneath the dolly trailer. The worker suffered significant chest injuries and cardiac arrest and died at the scene. His injuries were consistent with exposure to significant percussive pressure.
The investigation by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland identified a tear of approximately 12.5cm in the wall of a tyre on the dolly trailer, and established that the worker had been attempting to inflate the tyre at the time of the incident. An expert determined the tear was caused by a ‘zipper failure’, describing a tear of all the components in the sidewall of the steel cord radial ply truck tyre. A zipper failure causes the instantaneous release of stored energy. The expert found that the tyre’s steel body ply cords were contaminated during manufacturing, which led to corrosion and contributed to its failure. The investigation also determined the inflation equipment did not have a clip-on valve nozzle, which would have allowed the worker to inflate the tyre from a safe distance. The absence of that device, and the consequent proximity of the worker to the tyre, exposed the worker to a risk of death or serious injury when the tyre failed.
The investigation by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland found that the defendant failed to provide a safe work method for inflating tyres. Although the defendant had a third-party service agreement to maintain the truck tyres, tyre pressures were only checked sporadically. Several workers attempted to inflate tyres using their own equipment, which the defendant failed to prohibit.
In sentencing, Magistrate Sarra considered that the defendant company accepted responsibility by pleading guilty and by implementing control measures to address the risks of tyre inflation. These measures included requiring workers to inflate tyres using a long hose with a clip-on valve nozzle and removing them from the vicinity of a tyre to guard against the risk in the event of an explosion.
His Honour said the legislative framework encouraged preventive measures, including regular risk assessments, to avoid serious injuries and deaths at workplaces, and noted that companies bear a heavy onus to ensure that safe systems are in place.
Magistrate Sarra accepted the prosecution’s submission that the worker’s death could have been avoided if proper procedures had been implemented. His Honour commented that those measures were inexpensive and only mildly inconvenient. In mitigation, the Magistrate noted the defendant’s cooperation with the investigation, remorse, implementation of post-incident control measures, lack of prior offending and early guilty plea.
Magistrate Sarra exercised his discretion not to record a conviction. His Honour noted that, given the defendant company’s lack of prior offending and timeliness in implementing control measures, it was unlikely to reoffend.
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Sections 19(1) and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011