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$80,000 fine imposed after workplace incident results in amputation

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Inadequate supervision and training for a young worker has been blamed for a workplace incident which resulted in an inexperienced labourer having his hand amputated.

On Monday, the Rockhampton Magistrates Court heard the incident occurred while the worker had been employed as a pipeline labourer for a consortium near Biloela.

The pipeline construction work involved excavations using trenching machines. The labourer had engineering qualifications, but was still considered to be a young, inexperienced worker when it came to pipeline construction.

When the man was made part of the pipeline consortium’s New Employee Development Program, he was to be assigned a mentor and provided with a higher level of supervision and monitoring so he could observe the trench activity - keeping an eye out, and listening and looking for any problems, including blockages in the conveyor of the machine.

On 19 July 2013, the labourer was working with the plant operator when he noticed a piece of root lodged in the trenching machine. He then reached in with his right hand between the roller and conveyor to push the root out. His shirt sleeve caught between the roller and the plant conveyor, dragging his hand into the machine. Sadly, his hand was amputated at the wrist joint.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland told the court the incident was a foreseeable and identified hazard and the control measures detailed in the safe work method statement were inadequate, being all administrative only. Administrative controls are the lowest form of control measure, relying on human behaviour and supervision to be effective.

The court also heard supervision and training of the worker was inadequate and not what was detailed in the New Employee Development Program. The worker had not been provided with a mentor and was unsupervised at the time of the incident.

The defendant highlighted the extensive steps taken to improve safe work systems generally and make its plant safe post incident, but said the machine was not designed with or ever fitted with guarding. To attach guarding went against the manufacturer’s recommendations that the area be visually monitored for blockages. It would have obstructed the labourer’s view of the inner workings of the machine.

The court heard that the trenching machine was no longer used after the incident and that considerable support was provided to the injured labourer, including employing him in alternate work using his engineering qualifications.

Magistrate Jeff Clarke imposed an $80,000 fine and $2,900 court costs with no conviction recorded, agreeing that young workers are entitled to a higher level of supervision. He acknowledged the extensive post incident support provided to the worker by the defendant, the lack of any previous WHS convictions, and the company’s remorse and acceptance of its wrong doing.

Further information

For more information on industrial prosecutions, visit worksafe.qld.gov.au.

Media contact: oirmedia@oir.qld.gov.au or 0478 33 22 00

Last updated
11 December 2018