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Pastoral company fined $50,000 for gas exposure

A pastoral company which operates a grain and oilseed business pleaded guilty to breaches of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 after a worker was exposed to high concentrations of phosphine gas.

The company, which as part of its business transports grain from storage to feedlots, was fined $50,000 in the Oakey Magistrates Court in December and the company director fined a further $10,000 with no conviction recorded.

In sentencing, Magistrate Sheryl Cornack considered the defendant’s early plea of guilty but found it failed to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers. Her Honour indicated that cases such as these call for a deterrent penalty to ensure those who employ workers meet their duties and obligations.

The offence occurred in early July 2021, when a worker attended a property owned by the company, and collected three trailer loads of grain which needed to be transported to a feedlot in Chinchilla.

Prior to the trailers being collected, the grain within had been fumigated inside the trailers using QuickPhos fumigation tablets. These tablets react to moisture to produce phosphine gas.

The tablets were placed into a plastic tub and water was added to them, contrary to manufacturer’s instructions, which caused a faster, more intense chemical reaction, producing more gas. The plastic tubs had not been removed from the trailers prior to transporting them to the feedlot.

The worker arrived at the feedlot after it had closed for the day. He parked nearby to wait until the next morning. In preparation for the delivery, he removed the plastic tubs which had been used to hold the tablets from the trailers and placed them in the ‘dogbox’ underneath the cabin of the vehicle. The plastic tubs contained a powder residue.

The worker slept in the cabin of the truck that night. He awoke the next morning and was feeling unwell. Later that morning he began feeling worse and an ambulance took him to hospital where he remained overnight. He had become ill due to exposure to high concentrations of phosphine gas released from the plastic tubs containing the residue powder.

The magistrate found reasonably practicable control measures could have been implemented to eliminate or minimise the risk including:

  • ensuring workers used and stored QuickPhos tablets in a way which was consistent with the manufacturer’s instructions and restraints
  • ensuring personal protective equipment including safety shoes, overalls, gloves, chemical goggles and respirators is available for use, and workers used that equipment when handling QuickPhos
  • using signage or other means to warn workers that QuickPhos tablets were in use
  • ensuring trailers were checked for fumigation materials or chemicals before being transported
  • providing training and instruction to workers in the use and handling of QuickPhos tablets.

Further information

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