Compliance campaigns not toothless

Regularly Australian OHS authorities announce campaigns in certain regions or for certain industries.   To some extent these campaigns are about raising awareness of OHS issues but the fieldwork by inspectors does have some real benefit for some employers and workers.

Often these campaigns result in scores of improvement notices being issued.  Safety improvements are a major part of this inspectorate activity so, to some extent, the more notices, the better.  But notices aren’t advisories, they are directions that require action.

One company learned this lesson the hard way and has been fined $A6,000 in the Magistrates Court on 20 January 2010.  The WorkSafe Victoria prosecution summary describes the reasons for the improvement notices:

“L.K. Earthmovers is a registered company which operates an earthmoving business in Hamilton, Victoria. As part of its business, it operates a quarry at Penshurst.   On 13 November 2008, WorkSafe visited the Penshurst quarry as part of its Strategic Intervention Project on quarries.

As a result of observations made at the quarry, four improvement notices were issued to company director William Kenny [fined $A3,000 over the same incident].   Three of the improvement notices related to inadequately guarded quarry machinery being a vibrating screen, a cone crusher and a hammer mill.

The fourth improvement notice related to a work practice whereby workers were required to grease the swing jaw bearings of a jaw crusher by climbing over the jaws of the crusher and thereby risking either falling into its jaws or falling over the edge of the crusher bin to the ground (a 2.5 metre drop).

Each improvement notice listed a suggested measure that could be taken by the company to rectify the contravention, and had a compliance date of 13 February 2009.

The improvement notices were not complied with by 13 February 2009 and subsequent follow-up attempts by WorkSafe were not responded to.   The notices were eventually complied with on the 18 May 2009.”

It is suspected that the reticence to comply with a notice will keep this company on the WorkSafe radar but, other than the fine itself, has the company improved its general safety or only attended to specific hazards or just paid the dollars? Further follow-up visits will be needed to assess this.

Worksafe has had to deal with quarries on a fairly regular basis.  In 2005 a man died at a Donnybrook quarry.  WorkSafe said:

“Initial investigations indicate the man was carrying out maintenance inside the crusher when he became trapped by a piece of equipment which had fallen on him.”

The manufacturer of the equipment, Extec Sales & Distribution Australia, was fined $A140,000 in June 2009 over this incident  as was the worker’s employer, The Barro Group.  The Barro Group was fined $A650,000 in November 2009.  Curiously, The Barro Group won a WorkSafe Victoria safety award in 2004.

Kevin Jones

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