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Family-owned business fined $160,000 for two serious offences

Brisbane company Conissis Pty Ltd has been fined $160,000 for two separate breaches of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

The charges relate to a failure by the company to comply with its duty of care under s19(1), following incidents at a Coopers Plains workplace operated by the defendant in July 2016 and February 2018. On both occasions, workers were injured attempting to manually access bulk glass sheets from a custom-built racking system.

On 28 July 2016, two employees were working together to remove a glass sheet from the middle of a rack. The glass sheets at the front were leant forward by one worker and manually restrained by another, who was standing between the racks. The woman restraining the glass sheets was an office worker, untrained in this activity. The rack hadn't been properly pushed back against the adjacent one, causing it to move backwards.

Several glass sheets fell onto the woman, pinning her to the ground. She sustained serious injury, including multiple fractures.

In the second incident (8 February 2018), four employees were performing a similar task involving the same racking system. Two workers attempted to manually restrain multiple glass sheets which had been leant forward to access another sheet from the back of the rack. The sheets became unstable and fell to the ground, where one or more shattered. Three of the workers sustained lacerations.

Frustratingly, there was an alternative available, but not used. In this much safer method, sheets were removed one at a time and placed on a temporary storage rack until the right one was accessed.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigations revealed the defendant did not enforce this system and failed to provide workers with adequate training or supervision on the activity of removing glass sheets from storage racks.

In sentencing, Magistrate Grace Kahlert took into account the defendant's early guilty plea and co-operation with the investigation. Post-incident improvements to the workplace, including significant investment in new engineering controls which meant uncut panels no longer needed to be manually handled, were also considered.

The court deemed both breaches serious, especially the 2018 incident after a similar issue 18 months earlier. Her Honour said the risk was obvious and this was not a case where there was no procedure at all, but rather where a much safer method wasn't properly enforced.

Magistrate Kahlert stated there was a need for general deterrence, specific deterrence and denunciation, while also considering the nature of the injuries sustained by the workers and the mitigating factors.

In determining to record a conviction for the 2018 incident, her Honour observed the defendant did nothing to change its procedures following the 2016 incident. She said there was nothing before the court to show that recording a conviction would cause the defendant any disadvantage.

Her Honour acknowledged the defendant is a small family run business, with its capacity to pay a fine being relevant. Conissis was fined $50,000 for the 2016 incident, with no conviction recorded. The 2018 incident incurred a $110,000 fine, with a conviction recorded. The defendant was also ordered to pay costs of almost $1,700.

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