John Holland prosecution

The John Holland Group has featured several times in the SafetyAtWorkBlog in 2009.  Any organisation as large as this Australian conglomerate who promotes their commitment to safety and whose Board Chair, Janet Holmes a Court, has such a high profile is going to draw media scrutiny.  In fact, the evolution of the John Holland safety culture and the struggle to maintain such a culture as a company grows in profitability and complexity would make a fascinating case study.

On 18 December 2009, Comcare released details of its latest successful prosecution of John Holland.  This time the company was fined $A180,000 over the death of a worker, Mark McCallum, at the Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal in Queensland in May 2008.  According to the media statement:

“Justice Collier stated that “It is clear that, despite the efforts taken by the respondent to implement a safe working environment, the operation involving the transportation unit was flawed in its original conception. The dangers were obvious from the start, relatively simple to avoid, but unrecognised and unaddressed in a manner which raises the objective gravity of the offence in these proceedings towards the higher end of the scale.” [emphasis added]

When a judge determines that the process was flawed from the very start, one’s expertise in managing an established practice safely should be critically reviewed.  Such fundamental failures in a safety management system should cause any company to realise something is wrong in the way it is addressing safety needs, particularly in an economic climate that is bursting with new infrastructure projects for which one is competing.

The circumstances of the fatality are that

“A team of five John Holland workers were involved in moving large precast concrete decks to the end of a jetty under construction.  The precast concrete decks were being transported on two jinkers that were being pushed by a front end loader.  During this procedure, a worker’s foot became trapped under wooden scaffolding planks on the jetty, and he was fatally injured when he was run over by the wheels of the jinker.”

The Federal Court judgement listed the safety deficiencies that John Holland acknowledged

“The respondent acknowledges that:

(a) its work method statement did not adequately identify the risks associated with the relevant work process, and did not adequately identify suitable control measures to remove or minimise those risks; and

(b) it did not carry out a plant hazard assessment with respect to the front and rear jinkers, which may have identified a requirement for a remote braking system or other controls on the jinkers for use by spotters and others; and

(c) it did not have in place a formal system whereby employees were certified as being competent in the use of jinkers; and

(d) it did not have in place a formal protocol or procedure for the use of radios to ensure that the transmitter of a radio message was able to be informed that the message had been received by its intended recipient and understood; and

(e) it did not have sufficient communication mechanisms in place to ensure that employees working out of sight of the loader operator and the rear spotter were able to communicate directly with spotters and the loader operator; and

(f) it did not ensure that an observer of a trainee jinker operator was also issued with a radio to directly communicate with the other members of the transportation crew responsible for the propulsion of the load; and

(g) it did not provide workers who were working out of sight of the loader operator or rear spotter with any form of alarm or safety device, other than a radio to alert other workers of the occurrence of an emergency situation; and

(h) it did not ensure that the clearance of obstacles in the path of the loader was done in a timely or effective manner, thereby requiring the front jinker operator to perform that duty during the progress of the transportation unit and whilst out of the line of sight of the loader operator.”

Mark McCallum’s death gained even greater media attention when unions challenged John Holland’s nomination for a safety award shortly after McCallum’s death.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

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