SafeWork South Australia has illustrated a situation that is common in Australian workplaces – no matter how hard one tries to ensure safety, things can still go wrong. In a court case on 20 November 2009, four farm operators were fined over a foreseeable incident that cost a 20-year-old the sight in one eye as well a fractured skull and paralysis, from falling three metres. According to a SafeWorkSA media release
“The incident occurred in May 2006 as the farmhand, aged in his early 20’s, was working on a large stock crate prior to mustering sheep for shearing. The crate had been borrowed from a neighbour. The farmhand had to stand on a small platform three metres off the ground and operate a manual winch to lower a ramp within the crate.During this task, the winch handle forcefully struck the man in the face, after which he fell from the platform to the ground. This resulted in skull fractures and the loss of sight in his right eye, and spinal damage, which left him paralysed.”
The farmers had preventative management measures in place prior to the incident and have made considerable changes to the workplace to enable the worker to return to work.
The comments of Industrial Magistrate Stephen Lieschke in his judgement are worth noting
“While (they) believed they were being comprehensive in their safety improvements, they appear not to have given the same attention to the stock crate as to their own plant and equipment, probably because it was occasionally borrowed to them.”
“General deterrence does require a substantial penalty due to the prevalence of serious injury from the obvious danger of unprotected work at height, and due to the need for employers to take a structured risk assessment and control approach to all work processes and plant.
As first offenders the defendants are each exposed to a maximum fine of $100,000. In my opinion a notional total penalty based on a starting point of a fine of $40,000 is appropriate after taking account of all the above circumstances. After reduction by 30% this results in an aggregate penalty of $28,000. This in turn results in a fine of $7,000 for each defendant.
I also record a conviction against each defendant.”