The fatal consequences of riding in the tray of a pick-up or ute

In 2007, Pedro Balading fell off the back of a utility vehicle while working in remote outback Australia and died.  On 16 March 2010, the owner of the Wollogorang cattle station, Panoy P/L, was fined $A60,000 over the death.

According to one media report:

“Pedro Balading, a 35-year-old father of three, was a Manila piggeries supervisor who arrived at Wollogorang Station in early 2007 and found himself isolated, underpaid and performing menial jobs. He asked to go home but was told by his employer, Panoy Pty Ltd, and the labour hire firm that brought him from the Philippines to complete his two-year contract.”

Work Health Authority‘s executive director, Laurene Hull said in a media statement:

“The danger associated with travelling in the back of a moving utility, where the risk of falling from the moving vehicle can result in death or serious injury is common knowledge,” Ms Hull said.  “Panoy Pty Ltd failed to take appropriate steps to ensure the hazard posed by travelling in the back of utilities was known to the workers and the risks appropriately managed.”

There is very little information available from the decision in the Darwin Magistrates’ Court but the Northern Territory Work Health Authority has been approached with a series of questions.

A Northern Territory News article reported that

“The court heard the station had no safety plan in place at the time of the death.

There were four station hands in the tray of the ute when Mr Balading fell, along with a bale of hay, steel pickets and equipment.

Mr Zlotkowski gave evidence to the hearing, saying staff were no longer allowed to ride in the tray of the ute, and they would be fired if they did so. He said the station had since introduced an operation manual, and new staff were taken through an induction process.”

The Sydney Morning Herald provided a detailed article on Balading’s death.  The 28 August 2007 article is recommended reading for anyone interested in this case.

A 2004 newspaper article provides a historical profile of Wollogorang.

Mr Balading’s death, and the prosecution of Panoy P/L, are important examples of the duty of care that is required to be given to any employee in Australia, regardless of their employment status, nationality or circumstance.  It also illustrates some of the hazards associated with being employed through a labour-hire firm and being a migrant worker.

The criticism being aimed at the cattle station by the courts and OHS regulator seems to be due to the absence of a safe system of work and the fact that the risk of falling out of the tray of a utility vehicle on a rough country road is well-known.

Sadly one of the earlier media reports on the death reveals a level of racism that is not acceptable but may indicate a disrespectful workplace culture in rural areas of Australia.

Certainly there are migrant labour and industrial relations matters that, although unrelated to Balading’s death, are commonly encountered when dealing with workplace safety matters outside of urban and metropolitan areas.

A brief outline of the 457 Visa under which Balading was working is available HERE.

There are many safety management issues  thrown up by this case which SafetyAtWorkBlog hopes to follow-up.

Kevin Jones

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