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Fencing contractor fined $25,000 after teenage worker suffered serious hand injuries at Camooweal


21 February 2020

A sole trader operating as a fencing contractor has been sentenced and fined $25,000 in the Mount Isa Magistrates Court for breaches relating to duty of care under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

This follows an incident in 2017 when one of his young workers had three fingers badly crushed by a hydraulic post driver.

The defendant had been contracted by a company to complete 89km of fencing at Barkly Downs near Camooweal. He employed a crew of six workers, using a second-hand hydraulic post driver bought earlier. No operation or maintenance manuals were supplied at purchase.

On 20 May 2017, two teenagers were using the post driver to install galvanised fence posts. One operated the driver, while the other used a spirit level to ensure they were level.

As the female worker held the spirit level, she went to throw a lolly wrapper inside the hollow post. At the same time, her co-worker inadvertently released the hammer on the post driver which impacted three fingers on her right hand.

The 18-year-old woman was airlifted to hospital, losing her index and middle fingers, which had to be surgically reattached. She also sustained de-gloving of her little finger.

As a result, she struggles to use her hand, has ongoing psychological issues, and significant loss of amenity.

The court heard the defendant failed to manage the risks associated with the plant, including its moving parts in accordance with the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011, the How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks Code of Practice 2021, and the Children and young workers Code of Practice 2006.

An investigation by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland found the post driver had no guarding contrary to WHS regulation, the Rural Plant Code of Practice and the Post Drivers Industry Safety Standard (published May 2009). There was also no administrative control, such as an exclusion zone.

Having just left school, the injured worker had only been doing fencing work for the defendant for two weeks prior to the incident. Her co-worker had only been employed as a fencer for around six weeks prior to the incident.

The investigation found the defendant had merely given the teenagers a brief demonstration of the operation of the post driver. Other than that, neither worker had received any information, instruction, training, or supervision to ensure safe operation of the machine.

Immediately following the incident, the defendant fitted a simple wire mesh guard which effectively prevented the potential for contact with moving parts. He has also engaged a consultant to provide safety induction to staff and develop safety systems.

In sentencing, Magistrate Trinity McGarvie took into account the defendant's early guilty plea, a lack of previous convictions, co-operation with the investigation and post incident measures taken to address the risk. She believed found this indicated a demonstration of remorse by the defendant.

Magistrate McGarvie noted general deterrence was a factor and small businesses need to be mindful of their duty to keep their workers safe.

Her Honour said the offending was serious, particularly as an 18-year-old had been left largely unsupervised after only one day of tuition in circumstances where the plant had no guarding, and there was no exclusion zone.

The defendant was fined $25,000 and ordered to pay costs of almost $1,600. No conviction was recorded.

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