A regional Queensland council has been fined $75,000 over an incident in which a bus driver was hit in the head by a rock projected out of a damaged ride on mower.
The council pleaded guilty in the Rockhampton Magistrates Court recently to breaching Queensland’s Work Health and Safety Act 2011 by failing to comply with their primary health and safety duty and exposing an individual to a risk of death or serious injury.
The court heard that as part of its business, council had management and use of ride-on lawnmowers to maintain its land. The mower in this instance, which had a rear discharge chute, was purchased in December 2016 and had been serviced four times before 17 March 2020, most recently in November 2019.
On 17 March 2020, a council gardener was mowing the grass along the edge of James Street, Gracemere, when a rock was ejected out of the rear of the mower, breaking through the driver’s side window of a passing school bus and striking the driver in the head.
The driver, a religious minister who also drove the Kingsley College school bus, sustained a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain, requiring surgery to clean the wound and remove fracture fragments from his brain. He spent seven days in hospital.
A Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigation found the underdeck of the mower was substantially damaged, with several safety features bent, broken, or missing. Importantly, the rear discharge flap which was designed to prevent rocks from being ejected out of the discharge chute, was completely worn out.
Magistrate Cameron Press observed the risk of injury from mower propelled debris or stones was patently obvious, as was the need for guards, and that if they were in poor condition, the risk of injury or death was self-evident. It was considered the risk in this case was high due to the frequent mowing one by the council, the number of areas it was responsible for and an internal investigation revealed five other mowers also had unsatisfactory guarding.
Magistrate Press took into account the injury was very serious, requiring surgery and that there were ongoing health issues as a result. However, he recognised the defendant was not indifferent to safety matters and accepted there were systems in place, but they were not sufficient, and they failed to prevent the incident. His Honour accepted the council took immediate remedial action and the steps taken were significant and costly, wondering though why they hadn’t been taken earlier.
In mitigation, Magistrate Press also considered the defendant’s guilty plea, cooperation with the investigation, the quick response to the breach of duty, the substantial steps taken post incident, and their associated costs.
The council was fined $75,000 with costs of nearly $1,100. No conviction was recorded.
More prosecutions are at owhsp.qld.gov.au
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