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Regional recruitment specialist fined after investigation into Toowoomba showground death

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A regional employment services provider has been fined $90,000 for offences under the Workplace Health and Safety Act 2011 for a breach of duty owed to workers.

The breach related to an incident at the Toowoomba Showgrounds on 19 April 2016 when work for the dole (WfD) workers were placed by the recruitment specialist to the showgrounds. Work for the dole participant Josh Park-Fing died after falling from the back of a flat-bed trailer towed by a tractor.

A Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigation found the work for the dole participants were expected to perform their duties without appropriate inductions and training, and little supervision.

The court found the defendant’s failure to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of its workers because supervisors failed to deliver supervision, training, induction and risk assessment was a clear breach of the Act.

The court was told of a number of reasonably practicable control measures the defendant could have implemented. These included: ensuring supervisors complied with the organisation’s policies, in particular its Workplace Health and Safety Manual, and making sure supervisors provided WfD workers with appropriate site induction and training, following a proper risk assessment.

The prosecution alleged that while the defendant had a suite of policies and procedures, it failed to ensure they were being followed by staff tasked with supervising the programs. The provision of supervision of WfD workers was at the core of the defendant’s business and was one of a number of responsibilities placed upon it through the terms of its contractual arrangement with the Commonwealth Government in relation to managing WfD workers. The prosecution submitted that WfD workers are vulnerable, many undertaking the program are inexperienced and have no choice but to participate or lose part, or all, of their income support payments.

The defence raised a number of matters of mitigation, including the positive post incident steps taken, that it no longer participates in the work for the dole program, contributions it’s made to local sporting community groups and the psychological support provided to workers affected by the incident.

Magistrate Vivianna Keegan acknowledged this was a category 3 offence and that the maximum penalty of $500,000 was significant. Whilst admitting that the loss of Mr Park-Fing was tragic, her Honour said it was not an element of the offence under section 33. She however identified that this was an obvious risk and it was relatively easy to take steps to avoid that risk.

Magistrate Keegan determined that simply having systems was not enough, and there must be measures in place to ensure they are followed.

Taking into account the early guilty plea, post incident steps (including expanding the WHS team, re-training of staff and management), pulling out of the WfD program, employment of

312 staff, lack of previous convictions under the Act, and being good corporate citizen, her Honour ruled the fine should be $150,000, but discounted to $90,000.

The defendant was also ordered to pay professional and court costs of almost $1,400. No conviction was recorded.

The prosecution against the Royal Agricultural Society of Queensland is still before the courts with a mention set down for 16 November in Toowoomba.

More information on industrial prosecutions is at worksafe.qld.gov.au.

Ends.

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

Last updated
26 October 2018