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$60,000 fine after incident left worker with partial thumb amputation

By

16 October 2020

A Brisbane warehousing, transport and distribution business has been fined $60,000 over an incident which left a young worker with a partially amputated thumb which had to be surgically repaired.

At a recent hearing in the Wynnum Magistrates Court, it was revealed workers performed various tasks at the Hemmant warehouse including unloading cargo from shipping containers. It was not uncommon for the cargo to include large plastic rolls, measuring approximately 7m and weighing up to 1.6 tonnes.

These giant rolls were unloaded by dragging, lifting and manoeuvring each one individually using a forklift with an attached lifting jib and sling. The sling was tensioned while the roll was lifted and manoeuvred by the forklift. Prior to the incident, the defendant had developed a written procedure for this activity, which included an exclusion zone be used whilst moving the rolls.

On 8 November 2018, a number of workers were unloading rolls from a shipping container. This work was being supervised by the defendant’s warehouse manager, a qualified dogman, who was directly instructing a relatively young and inexperienced worker. Both were positioned inside the container and close to a roll while it was being moved by a forklift.

The young worker reached out to grab the sling with his right hand while it was moving, with his thumb caught in a pinch point and partially amputated. His thumb was surgically repaired, and he subsequently gained employment as a labourer with a different company.

At the time of the incident, the young worker had not been trained in the work procedure for this activity or of the need to implement an exclusion zone. He was not directed to leave the container while the roll was being moved. The defendant failed to ensure an exclusion zone was enforced while rolls were being moved and failed to ensure workers were properly trained and instructed in the activity.

In sentencing, Magistrate Zachary Sarra noted work health and safety matters are taken seriously by the courts, with a huge responsibility on companies to ensure workers are treated safely. Magistrate Sarra observed companies need to take sufficient steps to warn their workers of potential harm, particularly in circumstances involving movement of heavy loads and reliance on machinery. His Honour had regard to the impact the injuries had upon the injured worker, who was thankfully able to return to gainful employment.

Magistrate Sarra also noted it was encouraging to see the defendant had taken prompt action to further reinforce and refine its established work procedures post-incident so as to make it unlikely this type of event could happen in future. His Honour took into consideration the defendant’s lack of prior convictions, cooperation with the Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigation, the contrition and remorse shown, and a very early guilty plea.

In determining not to record a conviction, his Honour observed the defendant was a reputable company of good character that had made positive changes following the incident and done everything it could to rectify its wrongs. The company was fined $60,000, plus court costs of almost $1,100.

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For any media enquiries, contact: enquiries@owhsp.qld.gov.au or 0478 33 22 00.