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Poultry producer fined $90,000 over workplace injury


7 June 2019

A Nerang poultry producer has been fined $90,000 after a worker was run over by a forklift that had its reverse warning beepers switched off because of noise complaints.

The company has operated a poultry abattoir and sold poultry products for more than 25 years and recently pleaded guilty to breaching work health and safety laws, which left a worker with serious injuries.

The Southport Magistrates Court heard that in November 2016, a 61-year-old worker employed as a processing labourer had been reassigned to a role overseeing the production of cardboard boxes, which stored the processed poultry.

At about 5am, the worker was returning to her work area when a forklift, operated by another worker, struck her and the right rear forklift wheel ran over her leg. The collision ripped off a large portion of skin on her right leg, from the upper thigh down to her ankle. She also sustained some fractures to her leg, requiring surgery.

A Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigation identified that the company had directed its forklift drivers to turn off the reversing beepers between 7pm and 7am after neighbours complained about the noise.

The investigation also found the company had an inadequate traffic management plan regarding powered mobile plant and pedestrians. It had some pedestrian walkway markings, but not in the immediate vicinity and those that existed were degraded and barely visible.

In sentencing, the magistrate considered that the defendant had no previous convictions, had entered an early guilty plea, and had some policies, procedures and training in place, although these were inadequate.

The magistrate noted the serious impact of the incident on the injured worker, who has not returned to work. It was also noted that the company had implemented significant changes to its health and safety policies and procedures and made structural changes to the layout of the premises to improve safety.

A serious aspect of this case was that a designed safety feature of the forklift had been disengaged and the risk of an incident and the potential for serious injury was foreseeable.

The magistrate accepted that the company was remorseful for the incident but said WHS duty holders had obligations that they must take seriously. If a duty holder cannot eliminate the risks to health and safety for its workers, it must minimise them so far as is reasonably practicable.

The court imposed a $90,000 fine, with professional costs of $1,500 and court costs of $96.15. No conviction was recorded.

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