The good news and the bad news on Industrial Manslaughter

The end of the Court action* over the death of Barry Willis while he was working for Brisbane Auto Recycling (BAR) allows for various occupational health and safety (OHS) issues to be discussed, but a lot of the online discussion immediately after the sentencing on June 11 2020 was half-cocked and sometimes included a racist undertone. Both these elements deserve expansion.


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Forklifts, penalties and Industrial Manslaughter

A lot of occupational health and safety (OHS) people, including lawyers, were watching the court case involving Brisbane Auto Recycling (BAR) for the Industrial Manslaughter sentence, but there is a more important, practical lesson from this case involving forklifts and the positive duty of care.

One Queensland newspaper reported on June 11. 2020 stated that the BAR has been fined $3 million and the two company directors, both in their twenties, received 10 months imprisonment, wholly suspended. (The judgement is not publicly available at the time of writing)

According to the prosecution case the incident involved

“….. a worker engaged by BAR … was struck by a forklift which was being reversed by another BAR worker…”

and

“BAR had effectively no safety systems in place. It has no system to ensure the separation of pedestrians and forklifts, which were commonly in the same work areas, and it had no system to ensure that the workers who drove forklifts were appropriately qualified and supervised. It is principally through those failures that BAR caused the death of Mr Willis.”

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Forklift incidents continue

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One of the the most hazardous pieces of equipment in modern workplaces is the forklift.  Sadly it is also one of the most useful.  A recent prosecution in Western Australia provides an example of many of the serious risks in using forklifts:

  • untrained or undertrained drivers
  • unsafe decisions by employers
  • the safety role of seatbelts
  • labour hire management and staff supervision
  • driving with forks elevated
  • training certification.

Other related issues are the employment of

  • transient labour, and
  • young workers.

According to a WorkSafe WA media release, the basic facts of the incident are

Flexi Staff supplied two casual labourers to the Beds Plus warehouse in Kewdale in February, 2008. The two men were British citizens on a working holiday in Australia. [links added]

It was not part of their labouring job to operate forklifts, and neither had any experience or qualifications or High Risk Work licences. Continue reading “Forklift incidents continue”

The cost of not having first aid

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On 30 August 2010, WorkSafe Victoria released a media statement about a case in a Magistrates’ Court concerning the death of a worker.  Nothing new in that but in this case first aid gains a prominence that is rarely seen because in this case adequate first aid was not provided.  The uniqueness of the case justifies reproducing the media release in full:

“A Melbourne magistrate has described the failure of a Cheltenham company to seek first aid for a worker who hit his head and later died as ‘outrageous’.

Metal products manufacturer Pressfast Industries Pty Ltd was convicted and fined last week after a 2008 incident where a worker fell over and hit his head on concrete after being struck by a forklift.

The 60 year-old man was later found unconscious at work and died in hospital two days later.

“There was no qualified first aider on site, and the company failed to call an ambulance or seek first aid for the worker,” WorkSafe Victoria’s Strategic Programs Director Trevor Martin said. “The only staff member with first aid training was certified in 1984, and wasn’t alerted until it was too late,” he said.

In handing down his sentence, Magistrate Andrew Capell referred to the company’s decision not to seek help from the first aider, despite the expired certificate, as ‘outrageous’. Continue reading “The cost of not having first aid”

A gut feeling for workplace risk

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We all do it, we use language to both inform and at times mislead.  However, when the latter happens in the field of OHS it can be a very damaging to standards.  I’d like to draw attention to one such (class of) circumstance but I’m not sure that the very language I need to use as demonstration will be acceptable within this communication domain.

Some years back I tried to provide a means for linguistic interaction between some academic language and that of workers.  I hoped that parcels of theory and practice could interact to highlight strengths and weaknesses, as a kind of OHS reality check.  Once a word or a concept is understood communication has only started as an approximation.  I was trying to allude to other, subtler tools of language that must also be understood.  For example, it’s important to take note of tone, irony, sarcasm, analogy and metaphor.  These are all tools used in ordinary conversations, they not only deliver information, but may in fact provide pointers to essential meanings intended.  It’s hardly news to state that even a pause or a comma can make all the difference.  Try, “What is this thing called ‘Love’?” and “What is this thing called, Love?”

I asked a worker on a large demolition project (that within a year killed a man) how good was the local OHS system and how well was it supported by management.  The response was less than enthusiastic.  I then tried to get a sense for actual OHS practice, I needed a real example.  I asked this measured, neck-tattooed forklift operator of about 56 how he decided what size and type of forklift to use for which load.  Was there a policy?  Was there a standard operating procedure (SOP)?  Was there any written document…….. or what?  He was sitting at the time in one of the heavy forklifts on the site, a large machine about to lift and shift a huge load. Continue reading “A gut feeling for workplace risk”