A small family-run business specialising in the supply and fitting of window glass to heavy machinery was charged with two offences pursuant to s32 of Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Act) for breaching the duty it held under s19(1) of the Act. On 20 February 2020, the defendant company pleaded guilty and was sentenced in the Holland Park Magistrates Court.
The charges concerned incidents which occurred at a workplace operated by the defendant in Coopers Plains on 28 July 2016 and 8 February 2018. Both incidents involved workers sustaining injury while attempting to manually retrieve glass sheets from a custom-built racking system. The racking system allowed for the individual racks to be slid from side to side along a rail to access the contents stored on each rack.
On 28 July 2016, two workers employed by the defendant were working together to remove a glass sheet from towards the middle of a rack. In doing so, the glass sheets on the rack in front of the required sheet were leant forward by one worker and manually restrained by another worker who was standing between the racks. The worker restraining the glass sheets was an office worker who was untrained in this activity. The rack being accessed had not been properly pushed back against the adjacent rack, causing it to move backwards and numerous glass sheets on the rack to fall forward onto the worker, pinning her to the ground. The worker sustained serious injury, including multiple fractures, as a result. This incident only came to the notice of Work Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) after the subsequent incident, which occurred approximately 18 months later.
On 8 February 2018, four workers employed by the defendant were engaged in a similar task involving the same racking system, with two of the workers standing between the racks and attempting to manually restrain multiple glass sheets which had been leant forward in an attempt to access another glass sheet from the back of the rack. The sheets became unstable and fell to the ground, where one or more of the sheets shattered. Three workers sustained laceration type injuries as a result.
There was an alternate system available to workers, which was not used, whereby sheets could have been removed one at a time and placed on a temporary storage rack, until the desired glass sheet could be safely accessed. The defendant did not enforce this alternate system and failed to provide workers with adequate training or supervision in relation to this activity.
Magistrate Kahlert fined the defendant a total sum of $160,000.00 and ordered that a conviction be recorded in relation to the 2018 incident. The defendant was also ordered to pay professional costs and the filing fees.
In sentencing the defendant, her Honour took into account the defendant’s early plea of guilty, cooperation with the Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigation and post-incident improvements to the workplace, including its significant investment in new engineering controls which meant uncut panels no longer needed to be manually handled. Her Honour considered there was a need for general deterrence, specific deterrence and denunciation, while also considering the nature of the injuries sustained by the workers and the mitigating factors. While both breaches were noted to be serious, the 2018 breach was observed to be particularly egregious in light of the earlier incident in 2016.
Her Honour acknowledged the defendant was a small business, and that its capacity to pay a fine was relevant. The principle of totality was applied to reduce the penalty to be imposed for each charge.
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|Date of offence||28 July 2016 and 8 February 2018|
|Injury||Multiple fractures and lacerations|
|Court||Holland Park Magistrates Court|
|Magistrate||Magistrate Grace Kahlert|
|Decision date||20 February 2020|
|Legislation||Section 32, duty 19(1), Work Health and Safety Act 2011|
|Penalty||$50,000.00 (2016 incident) and $110,000.00 (2018 incident)|
|Maximum fine available||$1,500,000|
|Professional and legal costs||$1,500|
|In default period to pay||Referred to SPER|
|Conviction recorded||No (2016 incident)
Yes (2018 incident)