The defendant company held duties under s.19(1) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. It conducted a farm business. At the relevant time, the company comprised three employees and two directors.
Three workers were tasked with laying large pipes for irrigation purposes between two fields, under a disused railway line. The trench was approximately 3.6 metres deep and 1.8 to 2 metres wide. The sides of the trench were benched to a degree; however, the degree of battering and benching did not meet the requirements of the Excavation Work Code of Practice 2013.
On 4 May 2017, at approximately 4pm, three workers were working on the trench floor, guiding the pipes into position. One heard 'look out' as soil began to roll off the side of the trench. He attempted to run out of the trench, however was unable to escape as the trench collapsed. He was trapped from the waist down in soil with his hips pinned to the side of the trench. The other two workers were able to escape the trench before it collapsed.
The injured worker sustained several pelvic fractures and received surgery. He has reported suffering radial nerve pain, erectile dysfunction, anxiety and PTSD. He is currently undertaking psychiatric treatment.
On 13 September 2019 the defendant pleaded guilty in the Toowoomba Magistrates Court 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 Lee reserved his decision, which was delivered on 4 October 2019.
Magistrate Lee said that, while some attempt was made to bench or batter the sides of the trench, the defendant did not comply with the Excavation Work Code of Practice 2013. His Honour noted that there was no safe work method statement as required under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. Further, he noted that the injured worker, who was not experienced in trench excavations, was not given any formal instruction or documented training when he commenced his employment with the defendant six weeks prior to the incident.
Magistrate Lee noted mitigating factors, including that the defendant had entered a timely plea, co-operated with the investigation and improved health and safety procedures post-incident.
In deciding penalty, Magistrate Lee took into account the defendant had not been prosecuted previously for any work health and safety breach, had contributed to the community and was of good corporate character.
The Magistrate found the offence was serious. The risk of trench collapse was foreseeable and the risk of serious injury or death was also foreseeable.
Magistrate Lee fined the defendant $75,000 and ordered professional and court costs totalling $1,597.95. The court ordered that no conviction be recorded.
- Date of offence:
- Pelvic fractures
- Toowoomba Magistrates Court
- Graham Lee
- Section 32, duty 19(1), Work Health and Safety Act 2011
- Decision date:
- $75,000 fine
- Maximum Penalty:
- Conviction recorded:
- CIS event number: