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Harvesting company fined $150,000 for worker amputation

A harvesting company has been fined $150,000 over an incident in which a worker’s leg was amputated after it was caught in a skidder.

The company was recently sentenced in the Dalby Magistrates Court for breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, having failed to comply with its primary health and safety duty under section 19(1) of the Act.

The defendant company carried out tree clearing and logging services. In early April 2019, it was engaged to harvest brigalow trees on a commercial property and a skidder was used to move felled trees, in which logs are transported by a winch cable from a cutting site to a collection point.

An 18-year-old worker was engaged to operate the skidder. The worker did not have any experience using forestry machinery and was only shown the basic operation in a 10-minute demonstration. He was not provided with a formal induction or training on the risks associated with operating the skidder. There was no documented safe work method for the skidder and the defendant had not documented any formal risk assessment. The worker operated the skidder without supervision.

On 9 May 2019, the worker used chains to secure logs from a tree line to the winch of the skidder. He climbed onto the ‘pivot plate’ of the skidder, between the cabin and the winch drum, and engaged the winch lever to winch in the line. The worker placed his left boot on top of the winch line to guide the line onto the winch drum when his boot became caught in the winch line and his leg was suddenly drawn into the winch housing.

An ambulance attended and provided critical care until a Life Flight medical retrieval team arrived. After assessing the worker, the Life Flight team amputated his left leg to free him from the winch and he was flown by helicopter to hospital in an induced coma.

In sentencing the defendant, Magistrate Kerrie O’Callaghan acknowledged general deterrence must form a key part of any penalty imposed for offences of this type and significant penalties were called for to send a message to employers and businesses that a failure to comply with health and safety duties is a very serious matter.

Magistrate O’Callaghan considered both the high likelihood of the hazard occurring and the degree of resulting harm, noting there was an obvious need for workers to interact with the winch cable of the skidder, and the risks of the work were significantly increased when workers were not adequately trained and supervised.

Her Honour accepted the defendant was solely to blame for the offending and the offence constituted an almost complete failure to implement control measures to reduce the risk to workers. The company was fined $150,000, with no conviction recorded.

Further information

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