Defence fined $350,000 after RAAF member suffers severe leg injuries

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Tuesday, 23 March, 2021 - 14:00
Incidents & prosecutions
National News

The Department of Defence has been convicted and fined $350,000 under federal work health and safety laws after a worker was critically injured during a maintenance operation in Queensland.

Following an investigation by Comcare, Defence pleaded guilty in the Townsville Magistrates Court to a single criminal charge, admitting it failed in its duties under the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act 2011. The matter was prosecuted by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

The incident happened on the night of 16 August 2017 at the Royal Australian Air Force base in Townsville. RAAF personnel were tasked with removing the nylon tape from an aircraft arrestor unit designed to stop planes during emergency landings.

Workers were using a tow motor to remove the tape from an eight-tonne arrestor unit on a flatbed truck. The tape reached the end of the reel, pulling the arrestor unit from the truck and entangling a RAAF member who was on the rear of the vehicle at the time.

The arrestor unit and the worker fell onto the runway and the unit landed on the man’s legs, severing one and causing severe injuries to the other.

Acting Magistrate Scott Luxton recognised an early guilty plea by Defence, but also the seriousness of the incident.

“The penalty imposed should serve as a means of encouraging employers to maintain what is described as a constant vigilance with respect to ensuring the safety of their employees and the workplace,” he said.

“The likelihood of an improperly secured arrestor unit colliding with a worker was “not remote, but obvious and foreseeable”.

There were measures available to Defence to implement a safe system of work for the job, said general manager of Comcare’s regulatory operations group Justin Napier.

“The work should only have been carried out when the arrestor unit was anchored to its foundation, rather than strapped to a truck,” Napier said.

“The arrestor tapes should also have had visible warning markers to alert workers when the tape was running out.

“These were reasonably practicable measures that would have minimised the risk of harm to the workers.”

The defence was convicted of a Category 2 offence under section 32 of the WHS Act – exposing a person to the risk of death or serious injury. The maximum penalty was $1.5 million.