On 7 June 2013, a worker became ill with symptoms of Q fever and was admitted to hospital. Q fever is caused by inhalation of the bacteria (Coxiella burnetii), carried by cattle, sheep and goats.
A vaccine is available and recommended for high risk workers, but the worker was not tested or vaccinated. Controls were in place to ensure workers wore correctly fitting P2 masks (recommended for use for infectious diseases) however, inadequate supervision did not ensure he wore his mask at all times when working in the relevant areas of the workplace.
The defendant company held duties under s.19(1) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 being a person conducting a business or undertaking, namely an export abattoir and meat processing plant.
The defendant company pleaded guilty in the Caboolture Magistrates Court on 26 August 2015 to breaching s. 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, having failed to meet its work health and safety duties and was sentenced.
Magistrate Bernadette Callaghan fined the defendant $20 000 and ordered professional and court costs totalling $1583.50. No conviction was recorded.
In reaching a decision, the magistrate found that the defendant was a good corporate citizen that tried to do the right thing but fell down on supervision. It put in place what it thought was best practice and sought outside assistance to implement controls for Q fever. However, Q fever is a serious disease that can cause severe harm. The worker was hospitalized for 10 days. There hasn't been any Q fever prosecutions so it was hard to determine penalty. The defendant made changes post incident, including workers who had not been vaccinated were not allowed to work in high risk areas. The magistrate found it was unlikely an incident would occur in future and was satisfied there was no need for specific deterrence. She took into account the steps taken by the defendant and the remorse it demonstrated.
In deciding penalty, Magistrate Callaghan took into account the defendant had cooperated with the investigation and entered an early plea of guilty.
Considerations for prevention
(commentary under this heading is not part of the court's decision)
Best practice for managing the risk of Q fever for workers who are not tested and vaccinated for Q fever is to remove them from high risk areas such as the kill floor and gut room of an abattoir, until they are known to be Q fever immune. At the time of this offence it may have been reasonable practice for a small abattoir for workers to simply wear the correctly fitting P2 respirator.
Duty holders should consider that Q fever immunisation is the single most important way to protect non-immune workers from acquiring infection. Supporting control measures should also be implemented to protect workers and other persons, including by ensuring dust suppression in areas like stockyards, providing workers with information about Q fever, maintaining a pool of Q fever immune contractors, and ensuring the health and safety of non-immune visitors and contractors.
- Agriculture, forestry and fishing
- Date of offence:
- Illness – Q fever
- Caboolture Magistrates Court
- Ms Bernadette A Callaghan
- s.32 of the duty under s.19 of Work Health and Safety Act 2011
- Decision date:
- $20 000
- Maximum Penalty:
- $1 500 000
- Conviction recorded:
- CIS event number: