It can take a long time to learn how to manage workplace safety

On 21 December 2012 in the South Australian Industrial Court, Amcor Packaging (Australia) was fined $A96,000 over a breach of the occupational health and safety (OHS) laws.  That type of sentence appears frequently in SafetyAtWorkBlog but the difference this time is that it is the third similar OHS prosecution and fine applied to Amcor in South Australia.  Amcor Packaging has had similar OHS problems in Queensland and Victoria.

According to a SafeWorkSA media release (not yet available online), the latest prosecution involved an incident in November 2010 where:

“Two workers were walking on conveyor rollers to guide an unstable stack of cardboard when one inadvertently stepped into a gap between the rollers. The female worker was then struck by the arm of an automated pallet sweeper, sustaining multiple fractures to her lower leg and ankle.”

Cover  from 2012_sairc_59In his judgment on the case, Industrial Magistrate Stephen Lieschke said there was no risk assessment at the plant and a lack of engineering controls.  The two previous Amcor offences in South Australia also related to inadequate engineering controls.


Magistrate Lieschke also said that

“The two prior offences are highly relevant to this sentencing process, as the court is left with a low level of confidence that Amcor will not commit any future offences…..,”

In June 2008 law firm Holding Redlich mentioned an increase in an OHS penalty against Amcor by the Court of Appeals:

“The first significant step, excluding the ESSO Longford litigation, was the Supreme Court of Appeal’s decision in DPP v Amcor to triple the fine imposed at first instance by the County Court. The high watermark was set at $360,000, reflecting individual fines of $120,000 for the 3  charges that Amcor pleaded guilty to, following a fatality at its Fairfield site. The prosecution was under the 1985 Act and commentators speculated that had the charges been decided under the current OHS Act the fine may have been much greater.”

At least one of those charges is likely to have included the fatality of 29-year-old Darren Moon in 2003, where he was dragged into an unguarded paper-cutting machine.  It is worth considering what the equivalent fine would be under South Australia’s new Work Health and Safety laws.

Enforceable Undertaking and Shaming

Following an incident in 2011 in Victoria, Amcor Packaging accepted an enforceable undertaking as a result of not reporting

“…an incident in which a machine operator was injured when his fingers were caught in an extrusion lamination machine”.

That undertaking committed the company, amongst many other significant changes, to

“… publish an article in Amcor Australasia’s monthly internal newsletter “Connecting Amcor Australasia” in relation to the offence and Amcor’s obligations and actions pursuant to this undertaking within 8 months of the date of this undertaking.”

Magistrate Lieschke has taken this shaming further by demanding that Amcor post

“the details of the most recent offence on its website for three years.”

It is one thing to be “named” in an internal newsletter, another to be on the company website for three years for all those inquisitive search engines to find. The required text is provided by the magistrate in his judgement.

Corporate Values and Safety

Amcor Packaging is a division of Amcor Limited which claims to be “the world’s leading packaging manufacturer” and values:

“Safety – We take care of each other and we take care of our stakeholders

Integrity – We build trust in our relationships through honest and ethical behaviour

Teamwork – We work together to make a difference

Social Responsibility – We respond to the needs of our communities and the environment

Innovation – If there is a better way, we will find it together”

In its 2010 OHS Policy, signed off by Ken Mackenzie, CEO and Managing Director of Amcor Limited, two months prior to the incident above, specifically addresses continuous improvement:

“We will continuously improve our performance through finding safer ways to manufacture and distribute our products.”

It also states that it will “utilise the risk management process…” and “provide and ensure the use of all necessary safety devices…”

In December 2012, CEO, Ken MacKenzie stated in The Australian newspaper that safety was “always” the company’s number one priority – a statement made by many CEOs in Australia without quite understanding the practical significance.

Magistrate Lieschke included in his judgement words that all safety professionals and executives who are interested in due diligence should note:

“Amcor submitted it has a commitment to making its workplace safe.  It claimed to have a sophisticated OHS management system which complied with the Australian Standard 4801 and the USA Standard OHSA 1801.

Despite this, Amcor had not previously conducted any hazard identification and risk assessment of this item of plant, and its various written policies and procedures relevant to this plant were seriously deficient over an extended period.  Amcor also failed to heed the warnings it received after its two earlier offences involving plant at this site.

I accept that Amcor did have a subjective commitment to provide a safe workplace, although its follow through regarding this plant and the issue of walking on conveyors was far removed from sophisticated.” (emphasis added)

This reiterates that “certification” is no guarantee of safety.  Nor is “commitment”.  Too frequently “commitment” is interpreted by executives to be an “intention” with little interest in achieving any tangible safety improvement.

It may be possible to argue that a micro-business may not have understood OHS obligations but a company the size of Amcor Packaging has no excuse and the fact that similar incidents have occurred previously is unforgivable.  It is interesting to wonder, if the managerial deficiencies identified by Magistrate Lieschke in this instance were lumped with Amcor’s other plant-related incidents and fatalities over the last decade or so, whether negligence could have been considered.

Annual Report

Cover of Amcor_Annual_Report_2012There are indications that Amcor Packaging, and the parent company, are a progressive, highly productive company with a strong sense of corporate responsibility.  The company’s 2012 Annual Report states that the company is committed to “maintaining a safe workplace with the aim of achieving ‘No Injuries” by doing the following:

  • “Build internal commitment to safety and environmental management, and demonstrate leadership across all levels of the organisation;
  • Establish and maintain a best practice governance framework;
  • Build a performance culture of line ownership, co-worker involvement and systems  integration; and
  • Ensure co-workers are trained and engaged in identifying and eliminating workplace risks.”

These commitments are, generally, admirable however the “best practice governance framework” may be difficult to achieve if, from the evidence of their own Annual Report for the 2011/12 financial year, the company continues to fudge reality.  The enforceable undertaking mentioned above was signed in April 2012 by Managing Director, Nigel Garrard, and Director, Cesidio Troiani, but the Annual Report covering the period of the signing and the undertaking, reports the following under Fines and Prosecutions:

“Amcor did not have any material fines or prosecutions for workplace safety violations in the 2011/12 year.” (page 16, emphasis added)

An enforceable undertaking with public shaming should, at the least, have been acknowledged.

There seems to have been something wrong with the safety management of Amcor Packaging in Australia for a considerable time – several prosecutions in various States (one concerning a fatality), lax or absent risk assessment of high risk plant, lack of application of its own OHS management systems, and, perhaps the most significant, a failure to learn from its own mistakes.

Two (mis)quotes seem pertinent to Amcor’s safety management:

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Once is misfortune but twice looks like carelessness.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

One thought on “It can take a long time to learn how to manage workplace safety”

  1. Words with hand on heart are easy to say, words with hand on heart are impressive but mean little tonothing at all.

    Words with hand on heart coupled with dedicated and directed action is what actually prevents situations in the first place.

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