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Engineering company and director fined $460,000 over worker death

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.
Date: 
Thursday, 7 July, 2022 - 13:30
Category: 
Incidents & prosecutions
Location: 
Western Australia

A Welshpool engineering company in Western Australia and its director have been fined a total of $460,000 and ordered to pay $5000 in costs over the death of a worker who was crushed by a piece of pipe that fell off a semi-trailer that was being unloaded.

VDM Engineering and director David Van De Meeberg pleaded guilty to failing to provide and maintain a safe work environment and, by that failure, caused the death of a person who was not an employee and was recently fined in the Perth Magistrates Court.

VDM was fined $390,000 and Van De Meeberg $70,000.

In November 2018, VDM ordered four 12-metre lengths of steel pipe and a pallet of flanges, each length of pipe weighing around 1.1 tonnes.

The delivery was undertaken by transport company Expressway-Civic using a prime mover and semi-trailer that was not equipped with physical barriers such as pins, bolsters, uprights or stanchions to prevent pipes from rolling off during loading and unloading.

When the truck arrived to deliver the pipes and pallet, a forklift operator employed by VDM used his forklift to offload the pallet and to place the first two lengths of pipe onto wooden gluts on the ground.

When the forklift operator returned to offload the remaining two pipes, the truck driver was working between the truck and a limestone wall, winding up the straps that had tied the pipes to the semi-trailer.

The truck driver was on the opposite side of the semi-trailer to the forklift and the operator could not see him.

When he attempted to offload the other two pieces of pipe, one of them rolled off the tines of the forklift and off the far side of the semi-trailer, crushing the truck driver against the limestone wall.

WorkSafe WA Commissioner Darren Kavanagh said the case was a tragic example of failure by multiple duty holders to provide a safe working environment for the truck driver.

“The company had not formalised and implemented safe work procedures for this work, and Mr Van De Meeberg, who was in control of the workplace at the time, also did not implement safe work procedures despite being responsible for the worker’s safety,” Kavanagh said.

“WorkSafe’s investigation into the incident was told that the company and Mr Van De Meeberg were aware of the hazards of loading and unloading pipes from a truck as another company had previously refused to load VDM’s truck with pipes because it did not have adequate physical barriers.

“In addition, VDM employees had previously been required to stand in exclusion zones when undertaking deliveries using VDM’s truck – obviously not a safe work procedure.

“VDM should not have permitted the truck to be unloaded with a forklift when it was not equipped with physical barriers – the truck could have been unloaded with one of the three five-tonne capacity cranes in its factory.

“At the time of this incident, VDM also did not have or enforce a procedure on exclusion or safety zones while trucks were being loaded or unloaded.

“After this incident, a procedure was implemented requiring truck drivers to be located outside an exclusion zone and in the sight of the forklift operator – measures that could have prevented the loss of life of this truck driver.

“Mr Van De Meeberg was onsite on the day of this incident and did not recognise the hazard or take any action to manage those risks. He could have and should have ensured that practicable measures were taken to prevent an incident such as this.”

Expressway-Civic has also been prosecuted over this incident, but the company has not yet entered a plea and will appear in court at a later date.