The defendant company held duties under s. 19(1) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 being a meat processing business.
On 1 December 2014, two workers were on an elevated work platform in the rendering department fitting a chain in the in-feed screw (a guarded auger). The workers decided that the protective cover would require a weld. One remained on the platform, while the other went to retrieve a portable welder from the workshop. The worker returned with the welder and attempted pass it from the floor below to the worker on the platform, who was kneeling with part of his torso protruding between the hand rail and the intermediate rail.
As he leant on the intermediate rail it gave way and he fell through the opening, along with the railing which had detached. The worker fell head first, a distance of 2.2 metres sustaining spinal fractures, and was unfit for work for 4 ½ months but returned to full duties from July 2015.
The guard rail was designed and constructed in the 1990's and was inadequately maintained. An old welded joint on the intermediate rail had deteriorated and was defective. Investigation revealed the rails were occasionally cut, removed and replaced by welding to allow for larger equipment to be loaded onto the platform. This work was conducted by a qualified boilermaker. General monthly inspections of the workplace were conducted, however the guard rails or their integrity were not included, nor was there any load testing conducted on the guard rails. The platform which the rails guarded was not part of the production area and was only accessed quarterly by a lube technician and for maintenance when required.
The defendant pleaded guilty in the Townsville Magistrates Court on 8 December 2016 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.
In reaching a decision, Magistrate Cathy Wadley recognised the breach was due to “omission rather than commission”, but recognised the need for deterrence when dealing with failure to maintain and inspect workplace fixtures and fittings.
Magistrate Wadley fined the defendant $50,000 and ordered professional and court costs totaling $1087.40. No conviction was recorded.
In giving the defendant the benefit of an order that no conviction be recorded, Ms. Wadley acknowledged its cooperation with the investigation, timely plea of guilty, good safety record, no previous convictions under the Work Health Safety Act 2011 or its predecessor and post incident measures including replacing the guardrail in a way that would avoid reoccurrence.
Considerations for prevention
(commentary under this heading is not part of the court's decision)
When working in the meat processing industry where there is exposure to risks from falls due to inadequately maintained guard rails, duty holders should apply a risk management approach to ensure the selection of suitable control measures.
Risk management involves identifying the hazards, evaluating the consequences and likelihood of harm that may result from the hazard, deciding and implementing control measures to prevent or minimise the level of the risk from the hazard and reviewing and monitoring the effectiveness of existing control measures to ensure they remain working correctly and where necessary implementing an adequate maintenance program to ensure defects are promptly identified and remedied.
When deciding and implementing control measures associated with the risk of falls from height, obligation holders should consider:
- Work Health and Safety Act 2011
- Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011
- Managing the risk of falls at workplaces code of practice 2021 (PDF, 3.9 MB)
- Date of offence:
- Compression and transverse process fractures of the vertebrae.
- Townsville Magistrates Court
- Ms Cathy Wadley
- s. 32 under s.19(1) of Work Health and Safety Act 2011
- Decision date:
- Maximum Penalty:
- Conviction recorded:
- CIS event number: