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NQ company fined $150,000 after worker crushed to death


10 November 2020

At a recent hearing in the Cairns Magistrates Court, a North Queensland diesel mechanical repair and sugar cane harvesting business was fined $150,000 following an incident in 2017 when a worker was crushed to death trying to fix a cane haul-out vehicle.

On 7 October 2017, three workers, including a company director, were harvesting cane at a Mowbray farm. One of the cane haul-out vehicles developed an hydraulic line leak and the director, believing it was simply a hose that needed tightening, instructed the driver to fix the fitting in the assembly area around 500m away. The man did the repair alone, but around 20 minutes later, a colleague discovered he’d been crushed between the ‘haul-out’ vehicle and a stationary bulk fuel trailer.

The defendant company had in place a system for field repairs such as this one. Normally, one of its mechanics would be called in to do the job. However, on this occasion this process wasn’t followed as the director believed the easy fix could’ve been done by the driver.

To protect staff, the defendant company should have had in place a prohibition on workers doing field repairs single-handedly (in compliance with the operator manual for the vehicle and also the Rural Plant COP), as well as developing and instructing workers on the appropriate system for field maintenance.

In this instance, the duty holder failed to comply with primary safety duty and exposed a worker to a risk of serious injury or death. It appears the driver had attempted to fix the problem without turning off the machine and was crushed to death.

In sentencing, Magistrate Joseph Pinder accepted the company directors, one of whom had diesel mechanic qualifications, had previously told the driver not to work on a machine when it was operating, though noted this instruction hadn’t been given on the day of the incident.

Magistrate Pinder took into consideration the company’s significant co-operation in the investigation by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, an early guilty plea and remorse expressed by the directors. His Honour noted the company had no prior WHS convictions, but deemed this breach was toward the mid-level range of objective seriousness and that general deterrence loomed large in his penalty consideration.

The defendant company was fined $150,000 plus court costs of just under $1,100. No conviction was recorded.

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