A spate of prosecutions in the agriculture industry is a timely reminder to make 2019 a safer year for agriculture industry workers, particularly young and inexperienced workers.
The prosecutions follow several fatalities, including the death of an inexperienced worker at the Toowoomba Showgrounds when he fell off a trailer towed by a tractor. A Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigation found work for the dole participants were expected to perform their duties without appropriate inductions and training, and little supervision.
The magistrate determined that simply having safety systems in place was not enough, and there must be measures to ensure they are followed, and fined the defendant $90,000.
In a separate action, two farming companies and a sole director were fined $475,000 after the death of a 14 year old boy in Goondiwindi. In the 2016 incident, twin inexperienced 14 year olds were employed during school holidays to perform various tasks around the farm.
On the day of the incident the boys were told to pick up irrigation pipes using a tractor with a trailer. The tractor had one seat – occupied by the operator – while the other boy sat on the trailer and after one load was collected, the passenger stood on a small platform on the drawbar, placing him between the tractor and trailer. Tragically, he fell and was run over.
The company had a responsibility to ensure work systems were in place for everyone, including child workers, and had an obligation to provide appropriate supervision but it did not have these systems in place. The magistrate said there was obvious risk to a vulnerable category of worker and the operation failed in its system of supervision.
In another December case, a timber company was fined $60,000 for failing to protect a young inexperienced worker who lost a thumb and three fingers in a workplace incident. The investigation identified that three months earlier an audit had revealed some guarding was missing from the saw and recommended replacement as a high priority. Although the audit results were discussed during a safety committee meeting, no action was taken.
Another recent agriculture prosecution followed the electrocution of an overseas worker while using a cherry-picker. A North Queensland avocado grower was fined $200,000, with the magistrate saying there were simple steps which should have been taken given the potential risks, including planting trees away from the 3m powerline exclusion zone.
Finally, the Maryborough Magistrates Court fined a meatworks $200,000 over the death of a worker who was struck by a ramp unloading a triple-deck truck laden with pigs. The worker, who had only been with the abattoir a month, had no previous experience unloading livestock, no formal qualifications, nor training in the trade.
The court heard that during a delivery, the worker came to help stop pigs jumping off the newly raised ramp near the holding yard when it started moving in a see-sawing motion. The pigs continued moving, adding extra weight to the ramp when the cross bar suddenly dropped, trapping him between the ramp and the ground.
The court heard that no risk assessment, engineering or independent certification had been undertaken or was in place. There was no understanding of the impacts of the weight that the worker would be unloading onto the modified ramp.